Los Angeles to San Diego by bicycle

This blog post was inspired by true events...

Sometime back in April or May, I got the idea that it would be fun to ride our bikes from Los Angeles to San Diego. Sometimes I say things I don't mean. I'm not saying I didn't think it would be fun, but I definitely had no idea what a multi-day, 150+ mile bike/camping trip actually entails. The problem with saying things that sound like a really fun idea... is that when you are in the company of people who are inclined to act on them - they become reality really fast. Our friends Chad & Kimber were sold on the LA-SD bike trip from day one and Ashley's favorite pastime is dreaming about vacations/adventures... so the bike trip went from abstract concept to reality in embryo way faster than I could prepare for. I like being prepared.

In the weeks & months prior to the trip, I read several books on bicycle touring and scoured the internet for information on bike camping, routes, etc. There are a lot of helpful resources out there - and one of the foremost authorities on bicycle touring in the US helped us out a lot, the Adventure Cycling Association. They have tons of information on bicycle touring - and one of their most helpful resources is the maps they publish that help people (like us) get where they want to go. Fortunately, we lived right on one of the routes. This allowed us to navigate our way down to San Diego on a path that was tried and tested by cyclists. Really important.

I'll do my best to recapture the trip through the pictures. It really was a lot of fun - but it was a long ride.

We started out on Thursday, August 14th - 7:30 am at the Mar Vista Recreation Center. Here you can see we all look bright eyed and bushy-tailed. We literally had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

As you can see in the picture below, Ashley is all smiles as she eats her bagel and cream cheese. She's all bundled up like its February. I told her she'd be removing her jacket shortly. She did.

The first leg of our trip was going from our home in West Los Angeles to Long Beach. We were able to ride on bike paths nearly half of the way - which makes the ride really nice. We arrived in Long Beach feeling pretty good about our progress. It was just about 11:00 and we thought we were halfway there. Boy were we wrong.

Here we are resting up in Long Beach, as if we'd conquered the tour de france. Little did we know that our journey would become significantly more arduous. I think that's the Queen Mary in the background, if I'm not mistaken. Below: David sprawled out, Kimber helping Chad stretch.
We made our way through Long Beach rather slowly. We got a little lost, and I also got a strange flat tire as we carried our bikes over the sand. Coming out of Long Beach - we hopped on the Pacific Coast Highway which would be one of the staples of our journey. As we came to the border of Los Angeles and Orange County - we happened upon a strawberry stand. Stopping at fruit stands, trading posts, toy stores, historical monuments, etc. (delay in our "progression") is the epic struggle between the David and Ashley travel approach. Once I've got a destination in site, its all engines forward. Ashley is much more inclined to enjoy the journey/process - and looks for opportunities where it can be maximized. Below is a picture of my defeat - the group enjoying strawberries.

With a belly full of strawberries, we felt invigorated and like the wind was at our backs. Nothing like getting lost to take the wind out of your sails. Despite having a detailed map - there were times when we got a little confused. Pictured below is when we realized that we had ridden onto the I-5 interstate highway instead of the PCH. I was not amused.

A quick re-direction meant going down a grassy knoll - then down the wrong way of an on-ramp. It's nice being on a bike where you can perform these kinds of stunts with little hassle. If we were in a car - this is like a 15 minute turn around. Below: Kimber and Chad lead our redirection:

The rest of the day one was pretty much a blur. Going through Orange County was a little rough going. We got pinched a little bit - going through Laguna Beach in rush hour. It also started to rain and Chad lost his sunglasses. There were some big hills. We were tired. Morale was low.

San Clemente to the rescue! We rolled into San Clemente desperately ready for dinner. At one point in the planning stages of our trip - we envisioned buying pizzas in town, and then taking them with us to our camp site which was supposed to be only three miles outside of town.

That plan was abandoned about 15 minutes into our trip methinks. When we got to San Clemente, we were so hungry I could've eaten my hand. With patience long gone, we hastily decided on eating at a local establishment - Pizza Port. We devoured two pizzas, and got one more for free because they forgot to take out the onions on one of them. It was rapidly becoming dark (good thing we had the lights) - so we picked up some firewood at Ralph's and headed out to our campsite at San Onofre state beach. I thought we'd be close to the beach given the name and all. We actually rolled up to our campsite a little before ten pm. We were so exhausted, it really didn't matter what our campsite looked like.

Not even this:

So it turns out that San Onofre state beach, or "Sano" as I heard one little surfer dude say, is more of a place for people to come surf and sleep in their R.V.'s, than to actually camp and rough it. The Nelson's enjoy real camping - so needless to say Chad was less than pleased with our accommodations. This wouldn't be the first time we'd be displeased with our room & board. Not that we were expecting to be in the wilderness - I had read up on the place - but still. You are literally right next to I-5 with cars, trucks and all other types of vehicles roaring through the night, but also the Amtrak line. Trains are really, REALLY loud. Fortunately Ashley saved the day and brought ear plugs which helped a great deal.

In addition to the noise, the camp spots are jammed together like sardines. Below: Chad and I try to drown our sorrows in some day old pizza port.
Thank heavens for showers. After riding all day in the hot sun, with three layers of sun screen and sweat - we were ready to be clean. Even though the showers didn't have warm water or privacy - it felt amazing to be clean. I can't imagine trying to sleep in the state we arrived in.

The next morning we weren't itching to get back on the bikes immediately - so we went down to the beach and see what the fuss was all about. It was a slightly overcast morning, but peaceful and a nice contrast compared to the beaches we are accustomed to "up north."

The rocks on the beach were ideal for skipping - below chad demonstrates his picture perfect form.

Kimber hunts for more skipping rocks, while Ashley consoles David about not having steak and eggs for breakfast like he wanted.

Ashley was more interested in lounging than skipping rocks - she fashioned a lazyboy out of driftwood in about 25 seconds.

The second day of riding was much more beautiful. The beaches in San Diego County were scenic, and extremely tempting to us road-weary travelers. Before we got to the beach vistas - we had to ride through Camp Pendleton - The Marine corps base. Bicyclists are a common occurrence through the base, so we weren't an oddity. We had to present ID at the guard gate before we were cleared to pass. Pictured below - we took a break and enjoyed the scenery. We saw troops marching, and a lot of young men in american trucks.

Kimber showed a lot of bravado by taking pictures of the troops training. I wouldn't have done it - with the patriot act and what not, I expected to be carted off to guantanamo or something.
We made it through camp pendleton relatively unscathed - although I can't vouch for the behavior of the marines on base - one of them pretended to pat Ashley on the rear end as they passed in their truck. I was really furious. Ashley, cool as a cucumber, wasn't phased. Below: just exiting the marine base.

The beaches are really nice down San Diego way. We saw so many people enjoying the beach that it was sometimes difficult to keep riding. I was in the caboose position a lot, so it gave me an opportunity to take a picture of everyone ahead. Look at our awesome form.

We stopped for lunch at a little taco place in Leucadia. By that time (2:00), it was REALLY hot. We met up with my old friend from college, Ryan. He was our tour guide through northern San Diego county. It was nice to have someone lead for a while where we didn't have to constantly refer to the map. Ryan could only guide us so far - where on earth would we find another guide? You may be asking yourself, "does lightning strike in the same place twice?" Yes it certainly does, and it did on this trip. Below - the crew after lunch.
Some award winning scenery - courtesy of Ashley.

This was a stretch of beach just before a large hill going into Torrey Pines. Before we attempted our ascent - we pulled off the side of the road to discuss our strategy. I, with my large trailer didn't pull off far enough because some die-hard in spandex shouted "BIKE LANE!!!" at me as he sped past. We rested a bit before attempting the hill. Chad, Ashley and Kimber went through the state park and I stayed on the PCH. After a bit I noticed that I was starting to catch up to those dudes who barked at me. The hill was pretty tough, and long. I was so intent on catching up with them that it literally fueled me up the climb. Here I was, pulling a 50 lb trailer and they just had their waify frames and sport bikes. At one point, I was only 30 feet or so behind them. I considered this to be a monumental success considering they had at least a couple of minutes on me AND weren't pulling anything. I had grand visions of passing them and making a snide comment like "pretty nice climb eh fellas? Like my trailer? Oh me? My first time - you? BIKE LANE!!!"

After Torrey Pines we had started to reach our breaking point for patience. Every hill was like a mental kick in the groin. When we FINALLY reached the outskirts of San Diego we met a very nice, well intentioned roadie. It was easy to tell we weren't from the area (pulling all of our stuff), and he asked us where we were coming from, and where we were headed. He must have sensed some level of pathetic, helplessness in our tone as he offered to lead us to our final destination. I thought this would be nice, because (once again) it was nice to not have to think about directions. The only problem was... he rode REALLY SLOW. Pictured below - our knight in shining spandex.
He also was fond of doing stretches while on his bike. In his defense, I did make a comment about "not riding too fast" because we had been riding all day. He was decked out in hundreds of dollars worth of gear, so I didn't want him to think that we were keen on a fast pace. He took the "easy gear" to an extreme... to the point where I was riding on his heels in a subliminal effort to speed him a long. He didn't get the drift. We were so close to our destination, yet we were stuck behind this guy and we didn't have the heart to tell him that his services were no longer required. We finally passed him and said our goodbyes at a light. Below - David & Chad with trailers - led by our fearless bicycle-buddy.
After a few short turns... we set our gazes on the Motel 6 in San Diego. After a somewhat disappointing sleeping arrangement the night before, one simple night in a humble inn sounded so good. Chad went to check in as we stood outside with the bicycles. As time wore on... we started to get more and more concerned. Finally... nearly 30 minutes later, Chad walks out to inform us that our room for 4 had one, queen sized bet. We were irate, heart-broken, and beyond the realm of being able to adequately deal with this news. The picture below captures our sentiments rather well.
Tight quarters in the Motel 6. We made the best of it, and Chad and Kimber (like champs) refused to take the bed. We could only fight them for so long. We watched a little bit of the olympics and then fell asleep.
The next morning was a little busy . After a short ride over to the train station, Chad and I set out on a kamikaze mission to find breakfast. We came back with jamba juice, just in time to load our bikes and trailers. It was a seamless operation, thank you Amtrak!
One of my favorite "hypotheticals" was posed right when we arrived at the Motel 6. I asked the group, "how much money would it take you to get right back on your bike and ride to San Onofre." The group had varying levels of demands... I decided that I wouldn't do it for less than $4,000.

We arrived in Los Angeles a little after 1:00 pm, and still had about a 14 mile ride home. That wasn't the best part of the trip - but it certainly wasn't the worst. You can tell by the smile on our faces (picture taken at Gateway Plaza of Union Station) that the trip was an over all success.
There were many lessons learned from the trip - which we may get into at a later date. The most important thing to me was that we didn't have any serious mechanical or medical issues, and that we were all still friends after the trip (barely) - just kidding.

I'm definitely looking forward to being able to do something like this again - maybe longer, and definitely to some new place we haven't been before. If any of you want a fun, new kind of adventure and you are short on time or money - think about bike touring. It doesn't have to be across country to be tons of fun.


Sarah said...

I have to say that I really enjoyed reading about your trip. When I was in high school, I cycled through Australia for a school trip and I've always wanted to do it again at some point somewhere else. After reading about your trip, I'm not quite sure how I would do it with a 2 1/2 year old and an 11 month old. Maybe Dan and I will have to wait. Nonetheless, I think you guys are amazing and I think it's pretty cool you stuck with it and made it! Kudos! And, not to freak you out, but some of my friends found your blog from my blog and they think your writing is hilarious and good!

Serena Cherry said...

Wow! I got really tired reading your blog. You guys really did a fun trip. We want in next time, although I have to agree with Sarah, we're leaving the kids with Grandma.
So the question is. Would you rather take the 4,000$ bike ride or repeat the bus ride from Rio Dulce to Guatemala City in the blistering heat and traffic?

david said...

serena - i'm holding you to that!

in a couple of years, i'll plan a bike trip for us to do... & we'll drop the kiddies off at cliff & priscilla's.

re: bike ride vs. bus ride - man - you drive a really hard bargain. do i still get the $4,000 either way?

if so, then i'd go with the bike ride. that bus ride was hell on earth.

clyde said...

LOL about the $4,000. You guys must have been trashed both mentally and physically.

david said...

yeah clyde - we were pretty exhausted.

thanks for reading sarah - we're not freaked out by the readers, thanks for the nice words.

the youngs said...

Ahhh...I want a fish taco from that little joint in Leucadia! Sounds like a party..wish we could have been there, but it may have been a little difficult on our beach cruisers, eh?!

david said...

youngs- we wish you guys could have come too. The beach cruisers would definitely have to sit this trip out though. Rolling six deep would have been a lot of fun. We'll just have to plan something like this when sean is a doctor, chad is a professor. And I'm a hobo.

MiaKatia said...

That sounds like a really intense trip, especially to a person who doesn't even own a working bike. I think if I left my kiddos with grandma and grandpa to go on a vacation it might be more along the lines of a cruise or a South American beach or a European tour. Call me lazy ;)

david said...

well mia... let me tell you: i think that's most people's ideas of vacation as well. fortunately, i have a very supportive and adventurous wife. i told her that after this trip i'd spend pretty much the rest of my life making it up to her.

so here's to virgin daiquiri's on maui!

ashley said...

Hey-- "luxury" vacations are just a different type of adventure. I say we get real adventurous and go on a Caribbean cruise!

Serena, I hope you meant it when you committed to this bike trip. I almost had to cancel, but David was so serious and excited about it I had to make it happen. David will not forget about your "promise" and before you know it will be planning a trip for the Cherry family to cross the state of Colorado in 4 days. Don’t be surprised if you get an itinerary in the mail within the next week or so...

We had a great time, for sure and would recommend it to anyone. I have a few pointers, however—so call me before you do it.

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...

As a psuedo-roadie, I was honored to join your foursome for those two hours on day 2 of your journey. It was great to show you around North County.

I can hear those cars on the 5 just by thinking about them. Yikes.


Dawn D. Lion said...

Wow, I really enjoyed your account of your travels. It sounds like one of the best parts about it is the experience you take away from it, next time you do a trip like that you'll be old pros.

MF said...

Fun. And with the Nelsons? That's s double fun.

Alison said...

1. Craig TOTALLY would have taken you sailing to reward you for your ride, he's a half iron man, he's all about that crap

2. I'm trying to get us to move to LA in the future, stay there and we can bike to my house together. PARTY

ashley said...

Yes, yes, yes, Alison! We want you guys in LA now! When should we arrange for your house warming party? This is a done deal as far as I am concerned.

See you guys soon. We can celebrate by going sailing with Craig again. Yes!

david said...

alison, i think you & hubby would do very well for yourselves out here. it feels like your kind of town.

and i want another craig toured boat ride, for sure.