The California Fitness and Weight Loss* Bicycle Tour

I arrived in San Diego from Boston on November 6 and immediately flew out November 8 to bike down the coast of California. My goal was to gain fitness after not riding much the previous 2 months in New Hampshire and hopefully lose some of the 10 pounds I gained over the last 6 months (too much great beer, locally baked delicious cookies and lack of exercise).

*the weight loss was a pipe dream because there was a whole lotta great beer on this trip too!

Mileage Summary:
Day 0: Carlsbad flight to San Jose
Day 1: San Jose to Pescadero, 58.4 miles, 4053′ ascent
Day 2: Pescadero to Monterey, 77.4 miles, 3259′ ascent
Day 3: Monterey Day Off, 7.8 miles, 193′ ascent
Day 4: Monterey to Big Sur, 44.6 miles, 2831′ ascent
Day 5: Big Sur to Morro Bay, 95.1 miles, 5931′ ascent
Day 6: Morro Bay to Lompoc, 81.7 miles, 3507′ ascent
Day 7: Lompoc to Santa Barbara, 59.9 miles, 2197′ ascent
Day 8: Santa Barbara to Santa Monica (Oxnard-Van Nuys Amtrak), 45.9 miles, 1080′ ascent
Day 9: Santa Monica to Dana Point, 86.8 miles, 2825′ ascent
Day 10: Dana Point to San Clemente and back, 12.3 miles, 183′ ascent

Total: 570 miles, 26,059′ elevation gain

The trip as I remember it …

Nov 8. San Jose. I flew the perfect 1.25 hour flight with the new airline, California Pacific Airlines, out of Carlsbad. No crowds, no traffic, small plane 1/3 full.

Nov 9. San Jose to Pescadero. The California Camp Fire was in full blaze causing dangerous air quality with lots of smoke. After 15 miles of easy, flat San Jose cycling I knew I wanted an N95 mask and fortunately found a Home Depot with surprisingly plenty in stock. The steep 12 mile climb out of San Jose on Page Mill Road was tough for my out-of-shape legs but gorgeous with low traffic; I was glad to have the mask on for all the heavy breathing involved. I arrived in the tiny town of Pescadero where a well-known local bakery makes artichoke bread along with many other pastries. I was famished and ate most of a loaf along with a wonderful chocolate filled croissant and a diet coke, of course. The last few miles to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel were flat except for one final, kinda big, demoralizing hill. The hostel is somewhat rustic but has a great hot tub with an ocean view and Michael, the host, allowed me to use it at no cost as so few people were staying this late in the season.
Day 1 Route

 

Nov 10. Pescadero to Monterey. Smoky day with plenty of scenery, not all coastal. It surprised me how quickly the scenery changed from ocean views to farm country where laborers work hard all day long in the fields. They are our modern day slaves; we should acknowledge the broken backs of these people every time we eat a strawberry or enjoy our fresh vegetables.
Day 2 Route

 

Nov 11. Monterey. I had time to enjoy gorgeous Monterey today while waiting for a hotel room to open up in Big Sur. Veterans day weekend meant sold out hotels tonight at my next stop. The Monterey hostel is a nice place to hang out for 2 days; I especially enjoyed the Monterey Aquarium where I got a free pass from one of the hostel workers ($50 value!). There were thousands of disappointed people in town for the canceled half marathon due to dangerous air quality.

 

Monterey Aquarium Jellyfish Video 1
Monterey Aquarium Jellyfish Video 2

Nov 12. Monterey to Big Sur. I thoroughly enjoyed the scenic and quiet 17 mile loop out of Monterey and stopped for lunch at upscale Pebble Beach. Today was the day of The Famous Tree and The Famous Bridge. And more inland farming sections. It also included many miles of Highway 1 and non-stop, loud traffic. My favorite piece of equipment on this trip: earplugs. They turn down the volume rather block out all sound; without them I think I would have been driven insane with relentless traffic noise.
Day 4 Route

 

Nov 13. Big Sur to Morro Bay. The day started with a quiet Highway 1 as the holiday traffic finished and this part of the route is in the middle of nowhere with lots of scenery. I arrived early to my planned destination, Cambria, so decided to continue on to Morro Bay. Loud and weird grunting sounds near San Simeon caused me to stop to check it out: elephant seals!
Day 5 Route
Noisy Elephant Seals near San Simeon

 

Nov 14. Morro Bay to Lompoc. The day from hell. Flyover zone. The day started with 16 miles of brutal headwind as I headed east toward San Luis Obisbo. Things started to look up as I headed south and west again and the wind was in my favor. After Pismo Beach things took another turn for the worse: farmland. Big Ag. Miles of it on very busy Highway 1 full of semis and absolutely no shoulder to ride on. In Guadalupe a guy at a respite gas station assured me things would get better. I did eventually turn onto a quiet road but into another monster headwind and 3 long climbs. Then back onto 4 lane 65 mph Highway 1 to Lompoc, home of a federal penitentiary and lots of military personnel.
Day 6 Route

 

Nov 15. Lompoc to Santa Barbara. Much better day overall as I headed 18 miles uphill on freshly paved Highway 1 with a large shoulder and very little traffic. No need for earplugs until I merged onto Highway 101. The 101 is noisy and, absurdly, has a bridge with absolutely no shoulder for bicycles. I was forced to jump out into 65 mph traffic (I later learned that there is a button somewhere near the bridge that cyclists can push to let traffic know that they are about to make this suicidal leap). Santa Barbara, as always, is a lovely destination and I stayed in a hostel-like hotel with a gorgeous kitchen.
Day 7 Route

 

Nov 16. Santa Barbara to Santa Monica. I rode to Oxnard along roads that parallel the 101 so are relatively safe for bicyclists. I pulled out my earplugs again because of the 101 freeway noise. The Malibu fire was still burning and Highway 1 was closed so I took Amtrak from Oxnard to Van Nuys then biked a short distance to Santa Monica where I stayed in the very hip Santa Monica Hostel.
Day 8 Route part A
Day 8 Route part B

 

Nov 17. Santa Monica to Dana Point. My final full day of riding was surprisingly pleasant while on the beach bikepaths. I feared the whole LA area but it turned out to be safe with beautiful sections through Palos Verdes and beach communities. Unfortunately, the southern-most beach communities have no bike paths and Highway 1 is treacherous because cyclists are forced to ride out in the lane with lots of traffic on one side and parked cars on the other. Dana Point was the exception: this town has a full bike lane and seems to have given cyclists and pedestrians high priority. Tonight Bob met me at the hotel.
Day 9 Route

 

Nov 18. I finished my trip with an easy 12 mile ride to San Clemente and back with Bob. It was a good shake down for my tired legs and doable ride for Bob.
Day 10 Route

 

What’s a California coast trip without a surfer dude?
Dana Point Surf

Overall summary: Would I do this again? Probably not. While there are gorgeous sections along the coast of California they do not outweigh the incredibly unpleasant and dangerous sections. I’m a bit shocked that the state of California can tout this as a bicycle route. Much of it is not and inexperienced cyclists would surely find themselves over their heads.

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