I’m calling this Bike Adventure #1 because I’m hoping it will be the first of many. We’d had the idea of biking to San Diego over the course of two days for a while now, but never had a free weekend to do it, mostly because we’ve been training for half marathons since about July, and climbing on the weekends we don’t have long runs. Last weekend (two weeks before xmas) we were supposed to do a 20K trail race in Malibu but I was sick and it had been raining for a week so we didn’t do it. After sitting in the house for a rainy weekend, in half marathon shape, we were feeling just stir crazy enough to think a spontaneous bike trip sounded like a good idea. We were free the following weekend and decided to go for it. First, we called the two people we knew would be excited to join us- Nick and Jenny. Nick was headed home for christmas before then so he was out, but Jenny was game. So, we started planning. With less than a week to prepare, we wouldn’t have time to get panniers and other gear we might need, so we decided to book a hotel at the halfway point, eat meals at restaurants on the way, and assume we would always be within close enough range of a bike shop. We decided we could fit everything we’d need in CamelBaks so we could go light on this trip. We did some route planning- LA river bike path to the coast. That was about the extent of our route planning. Jenny would take the train up to meet us on Friday, we’d head out Saturday morning, reach her house in La Jolla Sunday night, and then we would drive back Sunday night and Jenny would stay the night, leave Shasta with us, and fly to Canada to see her sister for xmas. Over the course of the next five days, all three of us got sick and no more planning was done. Friday night we picked up Jenny from the train station, ate some Thai food, and quickly packed and did some route planning based on a 1980’s-era book on biking the Pacific coast.
Saturday morning, we hit the road around 8AM and headed to the bike path from Pasadena. The LA river bike path is a special place. The “river” is paved the whole way and usually has no water in it. It’s very industrial, except the parts where you pass by stables. There are an unusual number of horses along the route for being in the middle of a metropolis. There’s also the occasional park or baseball field with bathrooms, water refills, and sometimes donuts. And, apparently, the Liberty Bell. It’s not always scenic but it sure beats riding in traffic. The path goes about 35 miles total, from Arcadia to Long Beach. This part of the ride went quickly and easily: it’s ever so slightly downhill and there is typically a tailwind, which makes it great for riding south but not so great for heading back home if you’re doing an out and back. We arrived in Long Beach around 11AM and had brunch at a beachfront restaurant. Our goal for this trip was to consume more calories than we burned, and we got a good start on that.
We managed to stay on bike paths all the way through Huntington Beach, and roads with very little traffic all the way until Laguna Beach. Riding along the ocean was beautiful, and there were tons of surfers and beachgoers out the whole way. It was a balmy 75º out despite being late December, reminding me why I still live in southern California. Despite the occasional section with mobs of pedestrians, people on beach cruisers, and/or 5mph bike speed limit, the miles flew by. We might have had a bit of a tailwind. We had a goal for the afternoon, though: the banana stand on Balboa Island. Being huge Arrested Development fans, we were determined to find the original banana stand (which, unfortunately, is not shaped like a banana) and enjoy some frozen chocolate-dipped bananas. We took the ferry over to Balboa Island. Let me clarify: the ferry, which has 3-car plus a few pedestrian capacity, took us to Balboa Island. It was quite fun. From there we found our way to the main street, and there it was. The frozen bananas were glorious. Maybe it was just the hunger talking, but this could have been the highlight of the trip. We crossed the bridge to exit the island on the south side and continued down the coast.
The rest of Saturday’s ride was a straight shot down PCH through Laguna Beach and Dana Point to San Clemente. It was mostly easy riding on the shoulder of the road without much traffic, except a section through Laguna Beach that was terrible. Not only was traffic heavy with no shoulder and intermittent street parking, but I could also swear that some of the drivers were angry at us for some reason, because several cars tried to run me over. Eventually we took a side street and rode off the main road for as long as we could, but there was no good through street besides the main road for most of that. Once we got out of Laguna it was a nice ride into San Clemente.
We made it to San Clemente by about 3 or 4, checked into our hotel, and put on as much non-spandex clothing as we had brought with us. We looked silly. Did I mention that our hotel room had an ocean view, but only from the bathroom? That was hilarious. That side of the building had almost no windows. After enjoying our bathroom ocean view, we headed out in search of food. It may have just been the hunger talking, but the Mexican food we had that night was delicious, and then I had some even more delicious ibuprofen and a soak in the hot tub. Camping would have been fun, but hotels do have their benefits. Our total distance for Saturday was just under eighty miles, and we expected 50-60 for Sunday to get to La Jolla.
Sunday morning, we loaded up on a huge breakfast and bought some brownies for the road and then headed towards Camp Pendleton for the first part of the day’s ride. We only got a little bit lost before heading onto the bike path (which looks suspiciously like a freeway onramp) through San Onofre and then into Pendleton. This section was really nice, with very few (if any) cars and good bike paths. We stopped to admire the giant boobs just before entering Pendleton and then headed into the base, which allows cyclists to ride through if they show ID, wear a helmet, and are out by dusk. It was interesting to see the base from the inside, with signs like “tank xing” along the road and pickup trucks with Texas plates speeding through. It was much less terrifying than Laguna Beach.
We left the base and stopped for brunch in Oceanside around 11. By this time we were all grumpy and starving after having ridden about half of our miles for the day without really stopping, but the restaurant (whose name I don’t remember) seated us immediately, found us a spot to stash our bikes, and brought us awesome food very quickly. Maybe it was just the hunger talking, but that meal was amazing. From there, we headed into Carlsbad with the resolution to take our time for the remaining miles, eat more, and take more breaks. We stopped at a beach in Carlsbad and enjoyed the view: in one direction, we could see the hills of Camp Pendleton up the coast, and in the other, we could see La Jolla slightly farther in the distance- our goal for the day.
Past Carlsbad, we were in familiar territory for both me and Jenny, since we had biked that way from her house before. We cruised through Encinitas, Cardiff, and Leucadia on PCH- not an ideal road for cycling compared to the bike paths we had been on, but not bad. In Del Mar we we stopped at a great park on the beach and ate some brownie and enjoyed the view for long enough to get stiff. Totally worth it. We needed to rest up for our final challenge of the day: the Torrey Pines hill. It would be our only real hill climb of the whole trip, and right at the end. I have no natural hill-climbing ability, so the fact that I was out of shape and tired made this hill a bit of a challenge for me, but luckily I had done it before at the end of a long ride, so I was mentally prepared, and it went slowly but smoothly. Somewhere in there, my Garmin battery died, so I have no gps record of the final ten or so miles, but we headed from there through UCSD and to Jenny’s house. We made it around 3PM and enjoyed some excellent post-ride sushi before heading back to Pasadena. Our total mileage was about 133 miles at an average speed of about 14 mph, according to my bike computer.