SAN FRANCISCO TO SAN DIEGO BIKE TRIP

Trip report and pictures from the bicycle trip from San Francisco to San Diego, June 1999. Click on any picture to see a full sized version.

Day 1
Start: San Francisco
Time: 1:00 p.m.
End: Half Moon Bay
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Miles: 46
Cycling Time: 4 hrs 8 min
Avg Speed Cycling: 11.1 mph
Avg Speed Incl Rests: 7.3 mph

Bill and I flew to San Francisco on a Friday night, our bikes packed in bike boxes, and our gear stuffed in huge duffel bags. Scott Nisbet picked us up at the San Francisco airport in his 4-door BMW. We squeezed ourselves and our gear in the car and hung our bikes half way out of the trunk, and we were off to Scott's house in Foster City, where we spent the night. Kathy Nisbet made breakfast for us. After packing our gear in our panniers, we put them, the bikes, ourselves, and the two Nisbet kids in car seats into the same car and Scott drove us into the city.



Photo by Scott Nisbet
Bill and Bruce at the start
We parked near the Golden Gate Bridge and started loading our bags on our bike racks. When we were finally ready to go, Scott wished us good luck and we were officially headed toward San Diego at 1:00 p.m.

Our plan was make our first day a short one, allowing for an expected late start, and possible logistical "glitches" along the way. Our camping spot for the night was Half Moon Bay State Beach, about 30 miles away. We negotiated successfully through the city streets to bring us to Pacific Coast Highway

The first day was foggy. A view of the coast near San Francisco
and headed south. Our first glitch was a missed turnoff in Daly City that took us six miles inland towards San Mateo. Rick and I missed the same turn two years ago when we tried the same ride but corrected sooner. This time we had to backtrack a lot, but we got a fun downhill back toward the coast when we found a street that would take us there. Our second glitch was that we missed the entrance to the Half Moon Bay campground and went three miles passed it. We had to backtrack again. We made camp, a little later than expected, but still early enough to catch the ranger program, which was a cool slide show of and about whales.

Day 2
Start: Half Moon Bay
Time: 9:30 a.m.
End: North of Moss Landing
Time: 4:50 p.m.
Miles: 68
Cycling Time: 4 hrs 47 min
Avg Speed Cycling: 14.2 mph
Avg Speed Incl Rests: 9.3 mph

Day 2 started with the sun shining early. Rather than the fog that we'd seen all the previous day, we rode in sunshine all day long. It never got too warm, but it was clear and bright enough to get a good view of the ocean for most of the day.


Along the coast on Day 2
As we left the campground, we were passed by the first of many AIDS riders we would see for much of the trip. They had started from San Francisco that morning and a few of the fast ones had already made it to Half Moon Bay by the time we got on the road. We had known our schedule would be similar to theirs, but we had thought that we'd be ahead of them for most of the ride. It was not to be.

We cruised along the coast all morning, enjoying the view and getting passed by an increasing number of AIDS riders as the miles sped by. We stopped a few times, for snacks and lunch, and made pretty good time due to a strong tailwind for most of the day. We even toyed with the idea of going further than our scheduled camp location—toyed in the sense that we unwrapped the idea, took it out of it's box, and smashed it into a

On a scenic overlook at Sunset State Beach
million pieces. By the time we reached Sunset State Beach, twenty miles past Santa Cruz where the AIDS riders stopped, we were ready to quit for the day.

After entering the campground, we had to climb the biggest and steepest hill of the day to get to the hiker/biker campsite. That accomplished, we made camp, showered, washed our cycling clothes in a sink, ate some snacks, and slept.

Day 3
Start: North of Moss Landing
Time: 9:10 a.m.
End: Big Sur
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Miles: 63
Cycling Time: 5 hrs 12 min
Avg Speed Cycling: 12.1 mph
Avg Speed Incl Rests: 7.6 mph

The AIDS riders escorted us all morning, from our campsite to the place we stopped for breakfast, and from breakfast to the spot they turned inland just before Monterey. Fortunately, we didn't have to compete with them at restaurants and markets, since they had meals, snacks, and rest stops provided. Despite being invited several times, we stayed out of their rest stops.


Bill enjoys the breeze on an overlook in Big Sur
After we lost them, we got back to concentrating on our ride. We dawdled a little through Monterey, where I had a few tiny twinges of knee pain, but they didn't amount to much of anything. Once past Carmel, we caught up with our tailwind again and began the monotonous climb-and-descend mile-after-mile of the Big Sur coast. Fortunately, the weather was extremely clear so we were rewarded with spectacular vistas, but the wind made it a little chilly when we stopped to eat along the roadside.


The bridges leading into Big Sur were all under construction for earthquake retrofitting. They were limited to one lane of traffic so we were stopped a few times, for about twenty minutes at a time, to let northbound traffic through. This made our ride less dangerous, because once we were through, we had no other southbound traffic with which to share the road. Descending on curvy mountain passes is much nicer without Winnebagos trying to smush you or knock you over a cliff.

We arrived at Pfeiffer Big Sur campground without any smushing incidents and found the hiker/biker campsites. They were much nicer at Pfeiffer Big Sur, I think, than at any other campground of the trip. At most of the campgrounds, the sites for people without cars are just flat spots with picnic tables where they cram all the hikers and cyclists together. At Pfeiffer, they had separate sites, with fire rings and tables, in a secluded, wooded area. It was very nice.

In camp, we talked a little bit with some other cyclists heading south. We had seen some of them on the road during the day and we would see some of them in the days to come.

Day 4
Start: Big Sur
Time: 9:30 a.m.
End: San Simeon
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Miles: 67
Cycling Time: 5 hrs 26 min
Avg Speed Cycling: 12.3 mph
Avg Speed Incl Rests: 8.4 mph

Leaving the campground, we climbed one of the three big hills of the day. This was the hill that wiped out my knees the last time I tried this trip, but this time I suffered no serious problems. I experienced a little pain a few times, but nothing that lasted. We made it to the top and pressed on.

Along the coast
near Big Sur
Click this one, it's nice!

Most of the morning and midday was rolling hills and more fabulous views. Just before the San Luis Obispo county line, we had to climb the last two big hills of the day. We were pretty tired by then and struggled up them, but made it without much incident. Both of us had knees that were slightly sore, so we discussed staying in a motel in San Simeon three miles from the campground and making use of the ice machine to ice our sore joints.


That's Bill on the left, the Pacific Ocean on the right. This is my favorite shot, click to enlarge it!
Our tailwind was back and the road was level for the rest of the afternoon and we flew into San Simeon at over 20 mph for over an hour. The Motel 6 looked clean and they had a laundry room, so we checked in. We walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner before returning to the room for icing, laundry, and sleep.

Day 5
Start: San Simeon
Time: 8:15 a.m.
End: Pismo Beach
Time: 3:45 p.m.
Miles: 57
Cycling Time: 4 hrs 21 min
Avg Speed Cycling: 13.1 mph
Avg Speed Incl Rests: 7.6 mph

Since we had no camp to clean up, we got an early start out of San Simeon. It was a short ride into quaint Cambria where we stopped for a delicious breakfast. From Cambria to Morro Bay, we rode along with the AIDS riders ... again.

For parts of the ride, it was nice to be with other riders. We got more consideration from automobiles when we were with the big group. There were signs along the route that said "Caution Bicycles on Road". People along the side of the road clapped

Bill staying ahead of some AIDS riders
and shouted encouragement (okay, we didn't really deserve that). But the down side was hearing "on your left" from every single rider that passed us. Apparently the ride organizers drilled that habit in as some misguided safety rule, so that rather than learning to pass safely, the riders learned to just say "on your left" when they really meant "get out of the way". In all other respects, the AIDS riders were courteous and fun, but let's just say "on your left" got a little tedious.

After Morro Bay, we stopped in San Luis Obispo at one of the best bagel bakeries I've been to—Bagel Basement. I stopped there on my ride a few years ago while I was waiting for my train and I've been wanting to try it again. It did not disappoint. Also in San Luis Obispo, I stopped to buy some lottery tickets for the $87 million jackpot. I mailed some to Scott and Kathy Nisbet with a thank you note and mailed the rest home.

Since the day's ride was a short one, and we had started so early, we got to camp in Pismo Beach before 4:00 p.m. That gave us enough time to clean up, make camp, and ride into town for a pizza dinner.

Day 6
Start: Pismo Beach
Time: 9:15 a.m.
End: South of Gaviota
Time: 6:20 p.m.
Miles: 81
Cycling Time: 6 hrs 28 min
Avg Speed Cycling: 12.5 mph
Avg Speed Incl Rests: 8.9 mph

Day 6 was supposed to be our longest day. It was inland for most of the day, including a jaunt around Vandenberg Air Force Base, with not as much scenery as the coastal sections. We also knew there was a campground at Gaviota that we could stop at if we didn't make it to our destination at El Capitan State Beach.


Leaving Guadelupe.
Another nice shot.
Enlarge it!
As we left the outskirts of Pismo Beach, we passed the now-empty AIDS ride camp. We caught up to some stragglers before Guadelupe, where they veered off and we stopped for delicious breakfast burritos. The area around Guadelupe was farmland, and mostly flat so we made good time. As we approached Vandenberg we examined our map and especially the turn labeled "Harris Grade Road". We weren't too thrilled with the word "grade". We reasoned that we could avoid it if we took the route the AIDS riders were taking through the Air Force Base. Once again, we joined their pack and off we went.

It turned out, according to one of the riders, that our original route would have been easier. They were only going the long way because they didn't want to clog up a main road. We ended up going an extra five miles, but to make up for that, we had more hills.


Bill readying himself for the descent
Towards the end of a long, somewhat boring, afternoon that started in Lompoc, we approached the coast again. We had a terrific two-mile downhill ride that ended at Pacific Coast Highway where we picked up our tailwind again. We sped along to our intended campground and did our best to sleep through the noise from some sort of school camping trip at the next campsite.

Day 7
Start: South of Gaviota
Time: 7:45 a.m.
End: South of Pt. Mugu
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Miles: 81
Cycling Time: 6 hrs 11 min
Avg Speed Cycling: 13.1 mph
Avg Speed Incl Rests: 8.8 mph

We were awakened early in the morning by the sound of a freight train rumbling very slowly by, just one foot outside the campground. We got on the road and didn't stop for breakfast until Goleta. I stopped a man on the sidewalk and asked him if there was a good place for breakfast nearby. He recommended one and it turned out to be an excellent recommendation.

The morning's ride was uneventful and unremarkable. In fact, I don't think I took a single picture all that day. As we cruised into Santa Barbara, along with some of the AIDS riders, we realized we were ahead of schedule and that our planned camp site was very close to the AIDS ride camp. We decided to go all the way to the L.A. county line, making our day as long as the previous one, and giving us an easy half day the following day. We also hoped to avoid the crush of AIDS riders entering L.A. on their last day.

The two big events of the day were in Ventura. First, we missed a turn onto a bike path and ended up on a rocky beach with no trail. We had to ignore three locked gates to get there and then scale a dirt embankment to get back to our path. Second, we stopped for dinner at the In-N-Out Burger in Ventura—the first one we'd passed on the journey.

We shared the hiker/biker campsite at Leo Carillo State Beach with some drunk locals who argued loudly long into the night and early morning. Welcome to L.A.

Day 8
Start: South of Pt. Mugu
Time: 9:15 a.m.
End: Venice
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Miles: 31
Cycling Time: 2 hrs 20 min
Avg Speed Cycling: 13.3 mph
Avg Speed Incl Rests: 8.3 mph

We were met first thing in the morning by two of my friends. One was Ricky, who'd started this same ride with me several years ago, when I had to quit in San Luis Obispo. Rick is recovering from knee injuries and this was to be his longest ride since his injury occurred. Steve is a guy I used to work with and his plan was to accompany us from the L.A. County line to Venice and then from Venice to the Orange County line the next day.


Hi, Ricky!
We all made fine time, cruising down Pacific Coast Highway with hundreds of AIDS riders and dozens of other cyclists who were with neither them nor us. When we got to Will Rogers State Beach, we jumped on to the bike path and sped into Venice where we stopped on the Venice boardwalk for pizza by the slice.

In Venice, Ricky turned around and rode back to the county line to get his car, Steve rode home, and Bill and I rode to my Aunt Beverly's where we spent the night. It was a short day and the rest and relaxation did us good. Also, real beds were nice.

Day 9
Start: Venice
Time: 7:00 a.m.
End: Pacific Beach
Time: 7:45 p.m.
Miles: 129
Cycling Time: 9 hrs 16 min
Avg Speed Cycling: 13.9 mph
Avg Speed Incl Rests: 10.1 mph

By day 8, we were considering combining days 9 and 10 into a single day and getting home a day early. It was an appealing option because most of that part of the trip was either not very scenic (e.g. Lomita) or included dozens of miles of familiar territory (all of San Diego). We had the option of leaving our gear with Bill's friend Melanie who was in L.A. but some argued (Bill) that arriving home without all our gear would be cheating. Others countered (Bruce) that it wasn't cheating to carry no food on the days we'd be eating at restaurants so it would not be cheating to carry no tent on a day we would be sleeping at home. I think the winning argument was that we'd be doing a two day ride in one day so even if it was cheating to leave our gear, it was a harder day than any we'd done so who cares? Bill can correct me if I'm wrong. [SPACE FOR BILL'S COMMENT HERE]


Steve arriving at
breakfast
Having decided the night before to go all the way home, we arose early and started south, without most of our gear. We picked up Steve near his home and continued riding. And continued riding. And continued riding. We stopped for breakfast in Sunset Beach, where Steve turned around and headed home, but Bill and I continued riding. And continued riding. And continued riding.

For most of the day, we had a little tailwind. That helped our legs a little, but didn't do anything to alleviate over nine hours in the saddle, if you catch my drift.



Photo by Beth Espinoza
Bill and Bruce at the end
Before we got to the big hill at Torrey Pines, we stopped for coffee and donuts (for energy) at the much anticipated VG Bakery in Cardiff.

We arrived at my house before sunset, although we arrived separately because we accidentally took different turns a few miles from the end.

The ride was a success, although I am sorry to say that the lottery tickets I mailed home amounted to nothing. Maybe next trip.

Bill's Trip Report is available on his web site.

Total
Miles: 623 - Avg Miles per Day: 69 - Flat Tires: Bill 2, Bruce 0