December 2, 2015 by marktgardiner
My brother, Rob, has invited me to post something on this blog as I am on a big cycling trip of my own (Okay, maybe not quite as big as some of the cycling trips he has done, but bear with me).
My girlfriend, Chloe, and I are both on big trips – for nine months and six months respectively. I was in South America and she was in Canada and we wanted to meet up, so California seemed like a good halfway meeting point. Hence the plan to buy a tandem and cycle the Pacific Highway from San Francisco to San Diego was formed (because everything should involve cycling where a Gardiner is concerned).
While we pored over Craigslist to hunt for the best deal, we decided we could do with saving some dollars as San Francisco is very expensive. We decided on a house renovation for a week in Berkeley. In return for six hours’ work, four days a week, we would have free food and accommodation.
Arek, the house owner and Maths Professor at UC Berkeley, had been renovating his house for three years but still had no heating system, ceilings, or working sink. He did, however, have a wonderful Japanese toilet that would toast your buttocks. So as you can imagine, many hours were spent on that toilet seat in his unheated house. Arek was a lovely guy though, and helped us in any way he could with our tandem exploits and recommended all the best places to go in our generous amount of free time.
By the time the week was over, we had found ourselves a bargain Santana Sovereign racer tandem, worth $5000 new, for $550. The seller even gave us $30 for lunch in San Diego when we arrived! Before leaving San Francisco, there was just time to see Alcatraz and cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. Both were amazing experiences and must-dos for any tourist in San Francisco.
Our first day cycling out of San Francisco was a very hilly 45 miles, but towards the end of the day we started to get those ocean views we were searching for. We were then warmly greeted by our first ever AirBnB host, Roslyn, in Half Moon Bay. A hot shower, ridiculously comfortable bed and fantastic breakfast later, we were on the road again.
The highlight of the next day was a free private hot tub at a hostel(!?) overlooking the windswept, moonlit Pacific Ocean. What a way to end the day!
One of Chloe’s requests for this trip is that we saw seals. Well, we certainly saw a few. 150, in fact, on one beach! Unfortunately we were downwind of them though, and seals do not wear deodorant, apparently.
After three days’ cycling, we took two days off to explore Santa Cruz. Chloe did her best to get hypothermia in the sea before we got fish and chips on the pier with the sealions groaning below us on the beams.
On to Monterey, the final stopping off point before the famous/infamously difficult Big Sur coastline. We cycled the beautiful 17 Mile Drive, a coastal route with an obscene amount of golf courses considering California is meant to be in a drought!
The first night on the Big Sur coastline, we splashed out on a cabin in the forest and ate at the local pub. We ordered bangers and mash and shepherds pie and proved that we missed some things about home.
There is a cycling community called “Warmshowers”, which has been mentioned before on this blog. We were lucky enough to stay with Murdock Martin, the only Warmshowers host on the Big Sur coastline. We were his 83rd guests in just over a year and we could not be more grateful to him for his amazing kindness. He served us and another French cyclist unlimited mountains of pasts and sauce at night, followed by waffles and icecream in the morning. (We will send you a postcard from South Africa and the Hard Rock Café in London, Murdock!) Incidentally, he also happened to live in one of the rugged and spectacular parts of the Big Sur coastline.
After two more killer hills, we were sad but relieved to have completed the Big Sur Coastline. 20mph tailwinds quite literally pushed us down the coast, to San Simeon, and then our next rest stop, San Luis Obispo. We had both wanted to experience Thanksgiving in the US and we got our chance with another fantastic Warmshowers host Eric, and his two sons Sam and Amas. We were treated to a delicious dinner of turkey, roast potatoes and vegetables.
After a day of R&R and a gentle stroll, we continued inland on quiet country roads. We stopped off at a winery and a farmers’ market. In our lycra, we strolled in, drank the excellent wine and quickly left before anyone noticed how ridiculous we looked. We made subsequent stops to sample tasty caramel popcorn and explore sand dunes, where I somersaulted down the hill because a local Warmshowers host told me to.
Making fast progress south, we passed through Lompoc, the home of flowers (and very cold nights apparently). We soon warmed up in the frosty morning as a result of a steady climb to our highest elevation of the trip so far, 1030ft.
After a quick whizz down to sea level, we had lunch at the beach. Ahead of us, 20 miles of freeway until Santa Barbara. The blessing was the strong tailwinds, the curse was the three punctures in ten miles, on our longest day yet. Despite this, we arrived in Santa Barbara just after dark, having done 56 miles. We had been put in touch with a Brit living in Santa Barbara, and were able to watch Doctor Who (for Chloe) and Match of the Day (for me). A welcome taste of home!
Now we are well over halfway to San Diego and will be in the metropolis of LA within two days of cycling. Off to Beverly Hills and Hollywood!