Latest update on my purpose-driven cycling journey around the American perimeter.
The date was Tuesday, April 8, 2014. It was the 35th day of my journey around the American perimeter, from Monterey to Big Sur California. I think my written words that day probably speak for themselves.
“… God is in this place and he’s standing tall. I cannot begin to tell you how spiritual this place is, and I’m not ashamed to admit that the sheer beauty of it all almost brought me to tears at times….”
The Mama’s and the Papa’s had it right all along. In one spectacular section of the Pacific Coast Highway, over the famous Bixby Bridge and up the subsequent steep ridge, I was California Dreamin’. I rode my bicycle Inspired. Inspired and Thankful. Thankful and Prayerful. “Well I got down on my knees…”. You know the rest of the song.
The people I ran into along this populous stretch of California were, without hesitation, outstanding. I would categorize the folks in this region as either curious, hospitable, or cycling savvy. And in many cases, all three. I had countless conversations with residents who were eager to find out exactly what I was doing, where I was going, what I was carrying, and where I was staying. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations, and always made time for their questions. The vast majority of people, especially the drivers, were hospitable towards cyclists. Whether on rural winding roads with slight shoulders, or in heavily urbanized areas in Southern California, drivers tended to provide me with wide berth and speeds that were safe. It was obvious that local drivers, and even the tourist-oriented vehicles, were used to dealing with cyclists, and they were very accommodating. Lastly, I was impressed with the level of cycling knowledge throughout the region. Many, many cyclists would pause their training rides to converse with me, and many others would catch me in restaurants, campgrounds, and other public places to chat about their own cycling experiences. California is certainly cycling country.
More than any other tour I’ve ridden, the landscape diversity and beauty of this tour was truly memorable. The stretch from South of San Francisco to Santa Barbara, about 400 miles, was prime cycling, with artichoke farms and other fruit and vegetable farms, and winding, scenic coastal roads that sometimes seem to reach into the heavens. From Santa Barbara to the U.S./Mexico border, a more classic SoCal feel takes over. While there is still significant agriculture, it is the famous beaches (i.e. Venice Beach), famous neighborhoods (i.e. Malibu), and famous cities (i.e. Los Angeles, San Diego) that rule the days.
Route, Roads & Terrain
The route is the Pacific Coast Highway. Period. Most of the time, it’s called SR 1, sometimes it’s called U.S. 101, but it’s always called awesome. The PCH was originally created in the mid 1930’s in the Big Sur area, and expanded section by section from there. It runs right along the coastline most of the time, and I can’t imagine a more beautiful highway in America. For much of the route between San Francisco to Santa Barbara, if you aren’t climbing, you’re speeding down the other side. The route is extremely easy to navigate for two reasons. First, if you’re not on SR 1, you’re probably off-route. Secondly, assuming you’re southbound, if the Pacific Ocean isn’t on your right, you better check the map. Armed with these two tidbits of knowledge, it really is difficult to get lost. Note: Obviously, navigating through Los Angeles and San Diego requires a bit more detail, but as earlier stated, neither of these two urban areas presented impossible issues.
The timing and direction of this trip was well-planned. April is an opportune time for this tour because it is the end of the rainy season in this region. Additionally, a North-to-South direction ensures more days with tailwinds than headwinds. Having said that, most of the wind on this tour seemed to come from the West over the Pacific, so crosswinds were prevalent. Temperature was beyond pleasant. Lows early in the morning were usually in the high 40’s F range, and highs in the afternoon were typically in the upper 60’s F. Morning fog, especially in the San Francisco and Big Sur area, usually relented in the afternoons. It is the first trip I think I’ve ever been on that I wore long-sleeved jerseys virtually the entire time. Coming from Central Texas, this was a luxury that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Three Things I Learned from this Journey
1. God is in this Place and He’s Standing Tall
I don’t know what else to say. Admittedly, I’m a spiritual person, but there were sections of this trip that were indescribably beautiful. There were a number of days, even while laboring up the almost endless sections of hills, that I felt a sense of peace and presence that I have rarely felt in my life.
2. Nelson Mandela was Right About California Hills
Nelson Mandela, the great South African, once said “… But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb“. In the planning stages of this tour, I remember looking at the maps, as well as the elevations, thinking “how tough can this be”? Even though I had personally spoken with a number of cyclists who have traversed this region, and they warned me of the hilly geography, I saw the lack of “mountains” as a huge relief. I was wrong. While the hills were never more than 1500 feet in elevation, I learned that quantity of hills, and net elevation gain can in and of itself be a challenge. Typically, riding along the Pacific Coast Highway, one minute you will be at sea level, and 5 minutes later you’ll be at 1000 ft, only to fly downhill and start over again. But, don’t believe for a minute that it’s a miserable experience. I have no problem with the struggle of a hill/mountain that pays dividends at the summit like the Pacific Coast Highway!
3. If Virginia is for Lovers, California is for Cyclists
California is cycling country. Period. The people, the drivers, the cycling policies, the infrastructure, the services, the geography and the scenery all make for an unforgettable experience. I do remember Newton’s Law of Motion that says “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction“. I admit that California is also known for fires, winds, earthquakes, and mudslides. But on balance, and so far as it relates to my tour around the American perimeter, California is king.
A few years ago, as I began to form the basis for my goals related to long-distance cycling, I documented my intent to raise awareness and funding for two high-performing causes, noted below. If you have enjoyed reading this journal, and if you believe in these causes, I would ask you to consider supporting them, even in small way. I’ve provided direct links to the organizations below. I really do appreciate it.
The National Brain Tumor Society, a non-profit organization inspiring hope and providing leadership within the brain tumor community. They exist to find a cure and improve the quality of life for those affected by brain tumors. They fund strategic research, deliver support services, and promote collaboration;
American Rivers, a non-profit organization focused on healing North American waterways by removing dams, setting up “Wild and Scenic” designations which preserve rivers as free-flowing, and working with municipalities to push measures to prevent polluted urban runoff from reaching watersheds.
U.S. 360 Continues
So, what’s next on this Journey Around the American Perimeter? Well, I’m picking back up in San Francisco CA and I’ll continue North on the Pacific Coast Highway to the coastal town of Florence OR. At that point, I’ll head inland to Eugene Oregon, stomping grounds of my boyhood hero and extraordinary track star Steve Prefontaine. I’m estimating the trip to be approximately 700 miles, and I’m assuming the landscape will again be magnificent as I make my way methodically up the Pacific Coast. I’m narrowing the departure date to mid-September 2014 to avoid vacationing traffic, but hopefully miss the more inclement weather that occurs in this region later in the Fall. Keep your eye out for another journal soon!
Until next time,
It’s All Good