Outside the window, a cactus acts as sentinel. I’m in Phoenix, Arizona where the desert reigns supreme, alongside eternal summer. Just in the last week or so, I’m told, it finally “cooled down” to the balmy mid-80s. A perfect climate for cactus, growing tropical fruits like papaya and guava (like my Warm Showers hosts Mike and Katrina want to do in the aptly named Sunnyslope area of Phoenix). And a perfect climate for me, the lizard, who craves warmth like a long distance bike tourist craves grub.
At this point, the lizard is inescapably behind on blogging. Since October 7, I’ve ridden about 1250 miles from Berkeley, California to this sizzling spot. Tomorrow, I embark on the next leg which will take me into remote areas of Arizona and New Mexico. By Thanksgiving, if I had a treasure map, I’d put an “x” right on Cliff, New Mexico, 30 miles from Silver City. There, I’ll be staying with a friend of my mom’s from her Las Cruces Nature Conservancy days, Eleanor. Eleanor has kindly allowed me to stay with her and also is collecting mail for me until I arrive. Speaking of — if anyone wants to send me something to gleefully open at Eleanor’s place please ask and I’ll share her address.
So, let’s review my route to Phoenix. Henceforth, I’ve decided highlights will be the best way to ride the rest of this out, pun intended. Turns out, I haven’t had as much time to blog as I’d imagined. After this catch up episode, I’ll reverse back flip into the deep blue sea of Big Sur, one of my favorite spots yet.
In the meantime, here’s what me and the Pirate Ship Penny (her new name since I picked up a pirate flag roadside in the dusty, motorized chaos of Glamis, California) have accomplished thus far:
October 7: Berkeley, CA — San Francisco, CA, 17 miles. I met two sisters on the ferry, one of whom (Collette) lives in Pismo Beach and said contact her when I get close and I can stay with her. In San Fran, I crashed at my Uncles’ (Nico and Brian). Again, many thanks!
October 8: San Francisco, CA – Santa Cruz, CA, 85 miles. About 10 miles away from sunny Santa Cruz, I met Bob, my spur of the moment guide who took me the scenic way. By the lighthouse where we watched surfers catching big waves and across a historic wooden bridge. Thanks Bob! I stayed with awesome warm showers hosts Anne and Eric that night and felt like a member of the family.
October 9: Santa Cruz, CA — Monterey, CA, 48 miles. Today’s ride was all agriculture and farm country, then the ritzy, lovely areas of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. A stop at Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing for cioppino was a major perk.
October 10: Monterey, CA — Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, 45 miles. Goodbye farmland, hello Redwoods and my first day camping! I had the hike/bike area all to myself.
October 11: Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park — Lucia, CA, 31 miles. Goodbye Redwoods, hello hike-a-bike. Stairs made it an interesting yo-yo of bike, then gear, then bike, then gear up a trail constructed for locals to bypass a bridge that was out for months… I was rewarded by roads nearly devoid of traffic, incredible sea views and arriving at the Harveys house!
October 12-13: Lucia, CA and surrounding area. I fell in love with the whole Harvey clan — Kevin, Sara, Sage, Kiyan and Avin (plus dog Chili and cat Zydeco). The views (complete with whales breaching and an outdoor shower) and their generally amazing vibe really hooked me. I got to know the locals a bit and almost didn’t leave — more on that soon.
October 14: Lucia, CA to Salmon Creek Falls Trailhead (south Big Sur), 30 miles. Long story short, I did indeed end up traversing the closed slide at Mud Creek after midnight, with helpful advice from the locals. Interesting ride at night in strong Santa Ana winds, arriving at “camp” around 1:30 a.m. Again, more details to come on the next edition!
October 15: Salmon Creek Falls Trailhead — San Simeon State Park, 35 miles. I traded the wild hills and expansive views of Big Sur for wide, grassy bluffs and “civilization” via a solid descent. At the elephant seal viewing area near San Simeon, I saw female elephant seals lined up like sausages in a skillet. They were having a long nap after diving in the deep blue sea for the last four months straight. There, I met Alan, a volunteer at the seal viewing area. He invited me to come stay with him and his wife in Paso Robles — he was the kindest man in the world, so I said yes.
October 16: San Simeon, CA — Paso Robles, CA, 40 miles. One long, warm but enjoyable climb (off route, but well worth the detour) brought me to wine country. A highlight on the way was quaint Cambria with its Scarecrow festival. Paso Robles is a delightful spot, boasting about 300 wineries, lovely winding roads through oak forests and of course, Judy and Alan. Since we were also in the land of tri-tip steak, Alan and Judy served it for dinner. I was in heaven, of course…
One of the prize-winners in the Scarecrow festival.
October 17: Paso Robles, CA. Time for a rest/laundy/restock day and more winery visits with Judy and Alan.
October 20: Cayucos, CA — Pismo Beach, CA, 25 miles. After going out for breakfast and watching strong waves crashing along the beach in Cayucos, I said goodbye to Judy and Alan. A pleasant, short ride with a very steep uphill at the end brought me to Pismo. Remember Collette from the ferry from Oakland to San Fran? She invited me into her hilltop home and where the views absolutely did not suck…
October 21: Pismo Beach, CA — Buellton, CA, 66 miles. Collette rode with me the first 11 pleasant miles of the day. The road turned inland afterwards and I picked up a very nasty side wind. So, a challenging day through wine country to Buellton where I stayed at a very expensive RV park (the only game in town — $55 a night for a tent!). However, my tent neighbor, Norman, invited me to join a group of cyclists from Ventura at the pool for free pizza, salad and wine!
October 22: Buellton, CA — Carpinteria State Park (Carpinteria, CA), 55 miles. A climb through oak forests brought me the mermaid back to the ocean. I rode the busy Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to Carpinteria along the coast, watching dolphins jumping. I set up camp just in time for sunset and destroyed a burger and local beer at a brewery in town.
October 23: Carpinteria State Park — Leo Carillo State Park, 49 miles. Another beautiful, hot day (enter heat wave: 95-100 degrees) along the coast, with a stop in Ventura to meet up with Terry. Terry (another member of the Ventura cycling club from the RV park) found an old Adventure Cycling map of the California coast and gave it to me. He also kindly bought me a coffee and a pastry, thanks Terry! Afterwards a sweltering, busy section inland and around a large naval base, then back on the coast before reaching Leo Carillo. I shared camp and dinner with an incredible older Swiss couple, Phil and Rosie, riding from Alaska to the tip of Baja.
October 24: Leo Carillo State Park — Brentwood (Los Angeles), CA, 36 miles. Somehow, I arose after one of the weirdest nights yet (a hot Santa Ana wind roared, like someone had a hairdryer pointed at me all night as branches rained on the tent). Today was hotter than yesterday — I saw 104 at one point — so I drank like a camel and jumped in the ocean regularly. I hid out at a Starbucks before hitting the beach path then climbing up into Brentwood to stay with Jolly and Edith, my good friend Lisa’s friends from college.
October 25: Brentwood, CA — Redondo Beach, CA, 20 miles. After hiding from the heat through noon at Edith and Jolly’s I hit the road. I ran into three bikers back on the beach path, riding from Vancouver to San Diego in just six weeks! They were Scottish/English and one was a lovely badass of a woman paralyzed from the waist down. I rode with them until I turned off to stay with amazing Warm Showers hosts Pilly and Jason. Jason, who adores cooking, made me and another UK cyclist (Mark, who started in Argentina and was headed to Canada) a massive dinner, then cake, then cookies to take with us. And they took us on a sweet night tour of Redondo/Manhattan beach in their convertible.
October 26: Redondo Beach, CA — Hermosa Beach, CA, 5 miles backwards. Finally, a beach day! I stayed at Surf City Hostel, made friends with two German girls, a Canadian girl, a Hungarian guy living in the UK and a girl from Boulder. We spent a lot of time in the kitchen, me writing, them eating, drinking and making artwork. In the evening, I had a sunset dip, got happy hour with the Germans, saw a comedy show at The Comedy & Magic Club (Helen Hong headlined) and went dancing until way too late.
October 27: Hermosa Beach, CA — Crystal Cove State Park, 48 miles. Today I rode through the chaotic heart of Long Beach/Los Angeles and it was all about urban biking. After traversing the big city, I stayed at Crystal Cove, enjoying a long sunset underneath the bluffs with a glass of wine. I had another with camp host Chris, who was incredibly kind and let me camp behind his trailer for free even though the campground was full.
October 28: Crystal Cove State Park — San Elio State Park, 55 miles. Today started urban again, this time through fancy, polished towns like Laguna Beach and San Clemente. I gotta say, they are the real deal when it comes to Halloween. I then passed inland and through a whole lot of dry nothing in Camp Pendlelton and restocked food (and more importantly, wine) at a grocery store in Carlsbad. At San Elio’s hike & bike area, I found my Swiss friends Rosie and Phil and a Canadian dude riding from Vancouver to San Diego, then on into Utah.
October 29: San Elio State Park — North Park (San Diego), CA, 35 miles. Donuts for breakfast with my camp mates at a nearby, busy, legit donut shop called VG’s. I ate two for breakfast and took a third (a chocolate/white chocolate combination called a “Michael Jackson”) for the road. Then it was urban warfare on two wheels coming into San Diego, until I got on the river path. I exited by the Presidio and rode up a steep hill through fancy Hillcrest. Then onto unpolished, quirky Castro-like North Park to park at my bro’s girlfriend Kathy’s cousin Mary’s place (did anybody follow that?). Mary and her hubby, Jarrett, made me feel so flipping welcome and took me out for sushi, sake, Sapporo beer and then, ice cream!
October 30: North Park, CA — Alpine, CA (32 miles, 2500′ of climbing). I made the Big Left Turn and had another day of urban riding and busy roads, even after the climbing began. Junipero Serro trail (paved and through a valley full of fall colors) provided a nice respite. After finally climbing up to Alpine, I headed a few miles out of town to quiet Ma-Tar-Awa campground on the Native American reservation.
October 31: Alpine, CA — Pine Valley CA (15 miles, 2500′ of climbing). Happy Halloween! In the early hours, rain on the tent woke me up and I arose to a gray, cool dreary day. I let the tent dry, packed and after a short uphill battle, I arrived in tiny Pine Valley in early afternoon. I checked into the first hotel of the trip! I showered, re-stocked at the tiny store (making sure to check expiration dates as I was told by a fellow shopper) and slammed a carne asada quesadilla and a vanilla malt. Afterwards, I walked around a town Halloween festival in the parking lot next to the hotel and passed out early.
November 1: Pine Valley, CA — Jacumba, CA (33 miles). I had an easy ride up and over to Jacumba, watching the scenery become increasingly more desert-like. I also noted the massive border wall separating the US from Mexico, a taco’s throw away. At the hot sulfur springs, I discovered I could camp across the street next to the library for free — talk to George. Old, shirtless, friendly George said set up anywhere and I did, under a tree and a helicopter circling very low for a group that apparently crossed the border illegally. I spent the rest of the day at the hot springs, making friends, soaking and having a drink in the bar/second dinner with Veronica and DJ.
November 2: Jacumba, CA. Rest day and all the great things that come with it: sleeping in, going out for breakfast, soaking in the sulfur springs, drinking a Bloody Mary with a burger and fries on a skewer inside it, walking around the metaphysical outdoor art area, hanging with new friends (Dan, Dez, Tina, Pete, Andrea, Scott, Lorelee, Veronica and DJ, I know I’m missing others…).
November 3: Jacumba, CA — Brawley, CA, 61 miles. Highlights on the route to rural Brawley included a visit to Desert Tower via Coyote’s eclectic roadside Spaceship Recovery & Repair Service. An epic, nearly 3000 foot descent into the Imperial Valley followed, and then a flat section into Brawley.
November 4: Brawley, CA — Glamis, CA, 30 miles. Today I entered another world, traveling from the flat, green, rural (but desert) valley to the Imperial Sand Dunes. Here, ATVs, dirt bikes and dune buggies ruled — until three or four o’clock in the morning. Glamis was a motorized free for all, in short. There I met my new friend Katherine, another solo bike touring lady in which I had way too much in common, including a journalism background, being raised in Oregon and an affinity for Italy (because in her case, she has dual citizenship!). We ended up crashing a birthday party down in the motorized village (after the fireworks started up) and going to bed feeling more than buzzed.