I had never expected to cycle out of San Francisco, the intended end point of my cycle tour. However the lure of an extra few miles, corners, hills, sights and experiences were too much to bear so I set my sights on the Mexican border. I had a choice between cycling inland to Yosemite and the giant redwood forests or carrying on down the coast. I opted for the latter in the end in fear of temperatures soaring inland and on suggestion that the contrast of cycling through the well populated south of California would be an exhilarating finish to a cycle that started in wild Alaska.
I cut back to the coast on leaving San Francisco, spending my first night at Half Moon Bay from where I would hug the coast south except for one small detour inland to the Danish replica village of Solvang. Industrial suburbs gave way to fertile agricultural land growing every type of fruit and vegetable a boy from the north of Scotland could name (which perhaps isn’t very many). Fields of pumpkins, lettuce, brussel sprouts, broad beans, kale, artichoke, broccoli, spinach and corn grew within a patchwork of strawberry fields which stretched as far as the eye could see. One of the most striking things in drought ridden Southern California is the contrast between the actively watered production fields and dusty dry fields which aren’t actively farmed. Interesting choices of crop for a country so badly affected by drought! Strawberry fields were full of workers busy picking away, the air sweet with the smell of ripe fruit. Roadside fruit and veg stands sold fresh produce cheap, I bought 9 avocadoes for $1 at one stand before realising I was on my own and 9 avocadoes are a lot for one person to eat in a day.
I spent short days in Santa Cruz and Monterey, places I never dreamed I would see. There was a classic car show on in Monterey, not the sort of place to show up in a Fiat Punto. The contrast between the car owners and dirty old me was quite funny, their wing mirrors probably cost more than my entire touring set-up. Leaving town cues at the traffic lights went something along the lines of Ferrari, McLaren, Lamborghini, Buggati…sunburnt smelly Scottish boy on a bike with worn out tires……Maserati, Porsche. It so happened that most supercars were leaving town the days I cycled along the Big Sur coastline, which is jaw droppingly stunning by the way, revving as they went past to send me into a wobbly crash course towards the cliffs. If it had been in the upper class British countryside I imagine the drivers conversion would be something along the lines of; “Golly is that man on a bike? Say Horatio, watch as give him what for… ROOARRR….*I swerve as a knob in an expensive car uses my panniers as a crash barrier*……HHAAAAA….Bish Bash Bosh”. I think the Pacific Coast cycling guidebook I was using had it right when they described the Big Sur coast: “Rugged cliffs descend at near-vertical angles from the mountains to pounding surf, leaving little room for man or his roads. As a consequence, Highway 1 is narrow and winding, etched along the hillsides with a shaky hand”.
From Big Sur the topography began to flatten out towards LA. English signs slowly began to get outnumbered by Spanish ones as did the food much to my delight. From Lompoc I cut inland as a detour from the highway which brings you through villages such as Solvang and Buellton. The downside to this scenic and interesting detour was the climb over San Marco pass (2,225 ft.) which lay between my campsite at Lake Cachuma and Santa Barbara. The 20 miles or so between these points were characterised by shoulder-less extremely busy highway with narrow bridges and steep climbs. The temperature inland soared well over 100 degrees F (always think this sounds more impressive than 38 degrees C) as I started up the pass. Half way up I was reminded of the Goatfell Hill Race on the Scottish Isle of Arran when a fellow runner I passed shouted, “I could dae wi’ windscreen wipers fir ma eeens” (translation – I could do with windscreen wipers for my eyes) referring to the extreme rain which made it hard to see. In this case the sweat pouring off me had the same effect, dragging suncream from my forehead to my eyes making the pedal that bit more enjoyable/brutal.
Cycling into LA was quite enjoyable, double laned cycle paths take you through the famous beaches of Venice, Manhattan and Hermosa, literally with beach to either side of the tarmac. The morning I arrived it was cloudy so I didn’t have the usual throngs of roller bladders and runners to dodge. The pedal out of LA up until the city of Seal Beach was a different story. Massive power plants and industrial complexes made the place look like one of those sci-fi films where humans have ruined the world. The plus side to this part of the trip was the amazing sunsets and beaches where the water temperature now made swimming refreshing as opposed to life threatening. The number of cyclists also increased the closer I got to San Diego. Cycling through a high security military compound called Camp Pendleton there were groups of over 100 roadies thrashing the tarmac before work. It was here I saw my first brutal bike crash of the trip. On a long straight two lads raced passed me, head to toe in lycra on top of the range carbon road bikes. One went to overtake the other, flying out of his slipstream and obviously aiming to come in just in front of him to take on the lead for a while. As he came back in he misjudged the distance between them and chipped the other guys front wheel sending him flying across the tarmac. He came down with a good crash, splitting his helmet and knocking him out momentarily but it was his short trip across the tarmac that looked the most brutal, skinning his entire side red raw. We pillaged my medical kit to clean up the wounds before the army paramedics came to pick him up but the poor lad must have had a painful shower that night!
American’s love making s’mores (I hate the word s’mores, its makes the insides of my ears itch), basically a tooth dissolving combination of marshmallow, chocolate and biscuits that you can roast on a campfire. Do you know what else love s’mores? Skunks. I know this because one of the 11 year old lads camped next to me one night dropped a s’more a few metres from my tent door. I think he did it accidently, unlikely to be malicious. Anyway, I woke up in the early hours of the morning to the sound of noisy eating, another noise which makes my ears itch. It always takes a few moments to remember where, what and who you are when suddenly awoken in the middle of the night so after those few tense moments I reached across and slowly unzipped the tent door. There it was, a skunk chewing away on a s’more. A group of Mexicans camping across from me were still up clapping along to their favourite Mexican chart toppers. Strangely I found myself hanging half way out of my tent watching a skunk getting a sugar rush while Mexico’s answer to Neil Diamond blared out a tune in the background.
I had the perfect day cycling to the Mexican border. I stayed with a couple of fellow cyclists in San Diego, Judd and Victoria who allowed me some space in their beautiful garden for a couple of nights. Luckily I had ridden into town on the one day a year they close the Coronado Bridge which spans San Diego Bay for the ‘Bike the Bay’ cycling event. We were joined by thousands of other cyclists as we cycled across the bridge which gives amazing views of the city before heading south around the bay. From the southern tip of the bike route I snuck off in search of the border. The actual border, as I assume with many international borders, was a bit of a non-event with money changers, taxi’s, buses, stressed people and scary police abounding. I went to the pedestrian entry to Mexico and pulled out my camera before an armed guard subtly suggested I put it away, I snuck a photo at soon as I was out of sight then hopped back on the bike and strangely started the journey back north to San Diego and LA.