Thursday, April 15, 2004

posted on 4/15/2004

California 2004

My first solo cycling tour. I flew to San Francisco and then for 10 days cycled along some of the most dramatic places I have ever seen. Highlights were the incredible 2 days ride down the Pacific Coast on a surprisingly quiet Highway 1 and the few days spent around Yosemite National Park staring at those rocky mountains, waterfalls and majestic sequoia trees! Back in San Francisco having the bike made it possible to get to know the city pretty well in just three days, including a ride to Marin County the birthplace of mountain bikes. The total ride was 674 km and due to time constraints I used a bus transfer across the Central Valley as well as train journey from Merced to San Francisco. 

San Francisco - Santa Cruz, 6th April 2004 

First day of cycling and the start could not have been better. I cycled through busy El Camino Real to Palo Alto, bought some cycling gloves at Mike's Bikes and turned right up Page Mill Road.
This starts off as a four lanes road but soon the climbs begins and it gets narrower and narrower full of interesting switchbacks and green lush vegetation all around.
Half way up on my climb I met a girl cycling called Nicole. She stopped to chat and said she wouldn't mind slowing down and climbing with me. I found out that she was working in Palo Alto and this ride was her half day break from work! She told me how she has been doing a lot of bike touring herself and knew how nice it is to be able to talk to people you meet on the road.
After about one hour of riding together she went back downhill not before exchanging our emails, giving me lots of good advice on the route and her phone number just in case!
Leaving Nicole with the increased confidence of knowing someone to call in case of emergency I headed downhill on Highway 35 and turned right on Hwy 9 along the San Lorenzo valley. A stunning descent between forests of towering redwood trees almost hiding the sky.
I reached S. Cruz covering 113 Km; not bad considering that at Felton 8 km before I even had time for an haircut!
The hostel was full so I checked into a Motel and I have just had a huge dinner of clam chowder and Ceasar Salad on the town Pier.

Santa Cruz - Carmel, 7th April 2004

Left Santa Cruz at 08.30 and it turned out to be a good decision to leave quite early as my planned route was not as easy as I thought. Highway 1 cannot be cycled on this section as it turns into a 4 lanes highway until Carmel. All the alternative bike routes are in many books and maps that I thought I would not need!
The lack of a detailed map will lead me a bit astray adding an extra 50 Km to the route I had originally planned. Despite this rough start I eventually found a magnificent bike route winding its way between sandy dunes and the ocean from Marina to Monterey. I met a Mexican cyclist with whom I cycled for about 1 hour until much later than I thought at about 15.00 I finally reached Monterey. From there seeing how much more road I had covered and mostly how late it was I decided that Carmel would be my final destination for the day and so I took the very scenic 17 Mile Drive. This is a detour worth to bike along the Monterey peninsula with great views of the ocean and the green landscapes scattered with cypress trees and pines.
Getting to Carmel I knew that chances of finding an affordable accomodation were close to zero. Clint Eastwood might be a good actor but he sucks as Mayor and did not think of us campers! I loved the town though. Full of tiny shops and a great character. The famous mission I had seen in photographs many times was closed but I still managed to take a picture from the outside while sitting on the wall overlooking the garden eating my tasty dinner of cold ravioli in cream cheese. Finally as the evening approached I left Carmel and outside the town I got a tip from a park ranger that the beach would be a good place to pitch my tent provided I was doing it once it got dark to avoid being disturbed by bored policemen! I went to sleep after a magnificent sunset with the lullaby of the waves, ocean view and of course all this free of charge. Thanks Clint!

Carmel - San Simeon, 8th April 2004

A day that I will always remember. I spent it cycling along some of the most fascinating and wild landscapes on earth. The Big Sur coast exceeded my greatest expectations leaving me more often than not in awe and wonder, stunned by the beauty unfolding all around me. The writer Robert Louis Stevenson once said "this is the greatest meeting of land and water on earth" and for 8 hours at 18 km an hour I could see what he meant.
To witness the power of the ocean in its wildest form of giant waves constantly crashing on the high ragged rocky shores was a fantastic experience. Cycling it at the slow pace dictated by touring with a loaded bike made it even more so. I could merge with that unspoilt lansdcape and be part of its wonder from the heights of Hwy 1 which luckily I guess, was not busy with traffic at all.
At Molera and Pfeiffer Big Sur State parks the road turned briefly inland and the scene suddenly changed into forests of redwoods with mountains rising steeply both sides. With the excuse of having to charge my camera battery I had another huge american breakfast at the Lodge that with biscuits and 'Powerbars' of all flavours will keep me going for most of the day.
There are no words to describe the beauty of this part of the world. I cycled alone all day but often stopped to chat here and there with tourists stopping at vista points along the road. I briefly stopped at Saint Lucia, population 3 according to a guide I had read and one of the two 'towns' along this unspoilt land. I had a chat with an american cyclist with a trailer. As he was stopping at the next campsite he left before me. I refilled my water supplies for the final long stretch ahead where for the remaining 45 km the only human presence was that of two camping sites. Passing by the first one I recognised the guy met previously as he was waving at me in the process of pitching his tent for the night.
Near San Simeon I stopped by a tiny beach where hundreds of elephant seals were lying on the beach so close that I could almost touch them! I thought they looked particularly relaxed after a day spent trying to avoid being chewed by sharks! Something to learn. While cycling from the heights of the road I also saw the sprays and tales of a couple of whales migrating north.
To end this wonderful day I met two girls at the campsite who were cycling in the opposite direction from San Diego to Vancouver for over 2 months, Sara and... Sara! We exchanged information on the roads we would ride on the next day and talked until we had no more logs to keep the fire going. I went to bed for my second night with a wishful thought that I would sleep a bit better than the night before, finally getting used to my cosy tent!

San Simeon - San Luis Obispo, 9th April 2004

The route suggested by the Saras from San Simeon to San Luis Obispo was such a great ride, much better than my planned main route to reach the town. It follows the 'Adventure Cycling' route, going through Morro Bay National Park. I stopped by a little bay and had a salad and chicken and made phone calls to bike shops in SLO to organize for a bike box for my coach transfer to Fresno.
Art's Cyclery will keep one for me! I left the restaurant and took Turri Road a very nice ride indeed, winding his way in a valley of lush green pastures. I only met one cyclist and 3 cars for about 20 km. The road ends on Hwy 101 a major road that in a straight line I had only seen in american movies takes to Foothill Road where a left turn brings downhill into San Luis Obispo. Like Carmel it feels like a really nice place one of the nicest towns I visited so far. At the outskirts I asked for direction and ended up having half an hour conversation with a nice man admiring my way of travelling. At the end his 'good luck buddy' was a nice encouragement although I did not need any by now so much was the excitement for what I had seen in the last 4 days and the expectations for what was to come next, Yosemite and the visit of San Francisco. The temperature was hot I guess 25-30 degrees.
The town has one of the 21 christian Missions in California and its architecture and clean streets bordered with lots of trees makes it a beautiful place, certainly worth a visit. I checked into Hostel Obispo the local Youth Hostel where everyone was really friendly and the sound of Jazz music was being played in the background. I went to Art's to get my bike box and rode with the box under my arm to the nearby Greyhound station storing it there for tomorrow when I would pack my bike. I went to a photography shop to burn my pictures on CD as I am not sure if I will have enough space on my flash card. Again I ended up having a nice conversation with the very friendly owner who showed me pictures of the Yosemite trip she took the year before! Back at the hostel I had a refreshing shower, relieved that the transfer to Fresno was likely to work! The hostel atmosphere was family like with extremely friendly staff and guests. I put my 4 days ride sweaty clothes in the washing machine, opened the humid tent and sleeping bag on the grass to dry in the sun. Tomorrow I will be a brand new cyclist!
Following suggestion at the hostel I went to eat at an american bar in the central Higuera Street called Firestone. The Los Angeles Lakers were playing on a large cinema-like screen and the place was buzzing with young locals watching sports, eating or simply having a good time with friends. I ordered the 'Pig Sandwich' a Ceasar salad and french fries, hardly a good dinner for cycling...
When my order number was called I looked in amazement at the tray and wished that there were three of us! Huge portions and unlimited Coke fountains would be an hazard to my health if I was living here. I also got to find out the origin of the name 'Pig Sandwich'. By the time I finished it, I felt like one! Cost of that feast of fatty but tasty food? 10 dollars, not bad considering the quantity.
Back at the hostel I packed all my bags before bed, ready for an early start tomorrow. The coach to Fresno will leave at 07.50 and I will need a bit of extra time to box the bike.

Fresno - Coarsegold, 10th April 2004

It was meant to be only a transfer day by Greyhound but I managed to cycle 60 Km to get me for the first time ahead of my schedule. The coach ride through hot, remote and dry lands went well. My bike was packed in a box in about 10 minutes with forks and handlebars hanging out! The driver didn't seem to care much or at least he appreciated my effort and did not hesitate to take it on. I met Sean during the trip. A nice guy that moved from a local town to Crescent City in the north of California near the border with Oregon. He works as a tree surgeon climbing up those huge redwood trees that so much impressed me since the first day. He told me how beautiful nature was up there.
In Fresno, probably the ugliest place on earth I fixed my bike and determined to get out of it quickly I found the right direction to Yosemite. Nobody I asked seem to know an alternative route to busy Hwy 41 a 4 lanes freeway that leaves Fresno heading towards the Park. Out of sheer madness I took it despite the sign forbidding any bikes from entering. It was a real motorway and for 30 minutes it kept my adrenaline going particularly at entry and exit points where I had to be extra careful and find the right gap to quickly sprint across the lane and avoid being flattened in the process! On the positive side I was pushed by the tail wind caused by the busy stream of cars speeding over 130 km per hour by my side and clinging to the emergency lane I was able to ride faster than I ever did on the last few days. Something to tell people when I grow old!
A bit of wisdom made me exit the freeway and veer off to a side road going to Friant. It turned out to be an extremely pleasant alternative. I stopped at a bar full of parked Harley Davidsons and had a drink and chatted with some bikers who would not believe that the next day I would be carrying my bike and bags all the way up to Yosemite National Park. Needing directions I stopped a lonely biker in which company I rode through a beautiful section of road. His name was Dennis and he told me that he found the going pretty tough as he was on the Atkins diet! Strict to his new regime he refused my offer of an energetic bar on the grounds that it contained carbohydrates the greatest enemy to his weight.
He had a nice racing bike but was struggling to keep up with me. We spent an hour riding and talking and even offered me to stay at his place if I wanted but I did not want to disturb him. At the end he took me to a Motel near Coarsegold. Tomorrow I will need to ride Hwy 41 that here is a small 2 lanes road unlike near Fresno, and finally reach the National Park I so much wanted to visit. To avoid a bit of traffic Dennis suggested that I should leave at 06.00. At the Black Hawk Motel the only restaurant is a Pizzeria so I shall indulge in a bit of familiar food. Yosemite I am coming!

Coarsegold - Yosemite Village, 12th April 2004

Here I am in the jewel valley of Yosemite. Yesterday after a breakfast of left over Pizza and coffee I left at 06.30. The traffic was not as bad as anyone said, the problem was rather the long ascent; it tested my strengh a bit. I climbed with few breather breaks for about 70 Km! In Fish Camp I had a breakfast at the Tenaya Lodge a posh hotel near the Mariposa Grove, the first highlight of Yosemite. This is an extra 3 km uphill going to a grove of giant sequoias, an amazing spot to view huge trees over 2000 years old. At the start of the road is also the entrance to the National park. I payed 10 dollars fee as a cyclist. Cars pay 20. I then went downhill and felt excited about the prospect of getting soon to the Valley. The ranger at the gate to my surprise said the road was mostly downhill. Well sort of.... after the downhill to Wawona I climbed for about 1h 30 more to 6000ft!
On the other direction I met Tomohiro a Japanese guy who was touring on his bike around the US for 3 months. His english was not very good but we somehow managed to comunicate; I took a picture of him and felt sorry for all the weight he was carrying! I hope he will at least use all the things he had with him. A long downhill and an exciting descent in the long Wawona tunnel brough me to Inspiration Point the most spectacular view I am likely to ever be able to see in my life! A wide expanse of pines and redwood forest enclosed by towering granite mountains rising 3000ft and lots of beautiful waterfalls plunging down the rock faces in a mist of spray. El Capitan was stunning with its polished flat surface that draws climbers from all over the world. I headed towards the Village stopping at the foot of Bridalveil Fall and getting soaked trying to take a picture!
After the most beautiful ride along redwoods and constantly stopping to admire the views all around I found camp 4, pitched my tent and had a beautiful evening drinking and eating in the company of Hannah, Lilly two girls from Sacramento and Santiago a guy from Uruguay. I put all the food and deodorants in a bear box to avoid a bear visit in my tent and fell asleep to the sound of crushing waters of the nearby Yosemite fall and animal noises whose origins I did not really want to find out!

Yosemite Village - Mariposa, 14th April 2004

I said goodbye to my neighbours at Camp 4 and rode few miles to Mirror lake one of the nice sights I could not visit yesterday.
The crystal waters of the lake and the creek flowing down with great force through crags and rocks made ideal subjects for a few more pictures. I sadly had to leave this paradise on earth with the promise that it will not be my last visit. I began the pleasant ride down the valley with a last magnificient view of towering El Capitan. I could not see any climbers but I am sure quite a few were up there.
I reached El Portal in a steep descent and then the road got less steep and due to a strong head wind I ended up pedalling most of the way. I stopped for lunch at the Yosemite Bug a hostel that I planned to sleep in but due to my half day advance on the planned route I will now leave behind. The heat was really tough to bear so I decided to stop soon after at a Motel in a nice town called Mariposa.
Tomorrow I have decided to take transportation to San Francisco in order to have more time to visit the city and rather use the extra day to do more riding in the Bay Area with the luxury of a light bike without panniers!

San Francisco, 15th April 2004

As I had planned I spent one day cycling to Muir Woods across the Bay in Marin County. Lydia a german girl I met at the hostel also liked bike touring and was regretting the fact that she did not take her bike here so she joined me by renting one for the day. We crossed Golden Gate bridge, headed towards Sausalito and Mill Valley where a maze of tiny roads immersed in dense woods gently climb on the hills of Mount Tamalpais. Very much a biker's paradise! We met a local 'bike preacher' who was so passionate about the area and cycling that he said he felt showing us the best roads around was his duty like preaching the Gospel! So he cycled with us for about 30 minutes getting us on the right track and convincing us that this was the best place in the world for cycling.
We eventually got to Muir Woods admiring another display of giant redwood groves. After that we decided to be adventureous and explore the off road trails, birthplace of mountain biking. Miwook, Bobcat and the Coastal trail made it a memorable ride of course as it often happens longer than we thought. Towards the end climbing the Coastal trail we were repaid by a descent with breathtaking views of Golden Gate bridge and the ocean always in front of our eyes. We had dinner at the hostel where the old man in charge was so funny that he more than made up for the lousy food. We met Steve an english guy travelling the world for three months and looking forward to get back to England as he was a bit fed up in his own company!
We ended the day with a local beer in a North Beach bar. The night was great fun but little sleep. Two snoring champions were having a competition in our dorm and it almost came to blows when the noisiest of the two stormed out of the room shouting in the corridor and asking the night staff to call the police and get the other guy removed as he did not let him sleep well enough!