“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness.
The Pacific Coast of the United States is an incredible place to cycle. It is logistically easy, the people are friendly, the scenery is stunning, and there are plenty of other cyclists to meet along the way. Though I completed the entire section from Northern Washington to San Diego in five weeks, I would suggest taking at least six in order to spend more time hiking through the redwoods and exploring the many beautiful beaches along the way.
A Typical Day
Though there is no such thing as a typical day in my world, here is a little peak into what my life was like while I cycled down the coast. I would usually wake up between six and eight depending on how many kilometers I was planning to cover that day and what the weather looked like. It would take me an hour and a half (and sometimes twice as long if I got distracted talking with other cyclists) to eat breakfast and pack up camp before starting my day in the saddle. Sometimes, if I was only covering fifty or sixty kilometers, I would complete them quickly without taking many breaks in order to spend most of the day wherever I ended up. Other times I would take all day (up to twelve hours) to arrive at my destination since I would stop and explore different places along the way (and, once again, get distracted talking to people as well). No matter how much I ate throughout the day I was always starving, so cooking dinner was my first priority once I figured out where I would be pitching my tent for the night. Some evenings after dinner I would be in bed before the sun, while other nights (when I was staying with folks) I would stay up late talking. Most nights though, I tried to be in bed by nine or ten in order to get enough sleep to wake up rested and ready to do it all again.
I thought that I would have ample time to read the six books I brought with me, go for runs on the beach, and even be slightly bored. Boy was I wrong. Bike touring is extremely because most of your day is spent biking, and simple things such as cooking and setting up your home for the night take a lot longer when you are in the woods. I had time enough to see the ocean and explore the redwoods, but I wish I had been able to spend a few extra days in a few particularly beautiful areas just reading and relaxing.
I hugged the coast throughout my trip by following 101 in Washington and Oregon, and then highway 01 once I arrived in California. For the first half of the route there were bike signs along the highway as well as well marked alternate bike routes which passed along smaller more pleasant roads. In California the signs became less reliable, so having a copy of the book “Bicycling the Pacific Coast,” (the book almost all tourers follow) or a good biking map is very helpful. The coast is full of rolling hills and climbs, and the term “flat” really doesn’t exist unless you are biking the last hundred miles from Los Angeles to San Diego. Though this might seem daunting, once you have cycled a few days you realize that after gearing down you hardly notice the climb (you just travel very slow), and the adrenaline rush of going 70km an hour down the other side is well worth it.
Besides being beautiful, the coast provides a temperate climate that makes it possible to complete this trip easily in the summer without having to deal with more than a day or two over ninety. In fact, most days were pleasant during the day (60’s), then cool in the evenings. The terrain varied immensely from busy towns such as San Francisco and LA to small country roads through kilometers of strawberry fields. My personal favorite were the one lane roads etched in the cliffs that were prevalent in parts of Oregon and Northern California. For anyone planning on riding the coast, I would suggest stopping in LA instead of San Diego (unless you won’t feel complete until you literally touch the Mexican boarder) because that stretch is just two days of busy city riding.
I had a MSR whisperlight international stove with me (which burns any kind of gasoline, including car gas) to cook, and I usually used it twice a day. For breakfast I would add dried fruit and a spoonful of peanut butter to two packets of oatmeal. For lunch I would pack a variety of snacks such as bananas and peanut butter, bars, fruit, and bread. I normally ate something every hour, and I never experienced the “bonk” (when you run out of energy) that many people talk about. Whenever I passed a Safeway I would buy a donut (or three) as well to keep me going. For dinner I would bring out the stove again, and boy could I eat! I started out my trip with some dehydrated food I had made before leaving, so the bean soup, lentils and rice, and pasta dishes just needed to cook for a few minutes which made dinner very simple. After I ran out of those I ate a lot of pasta and cheese (a pound of pasta would last me two days, as would a pound of cheese), lentils, rice, dehydrated potatoes, and quinoa (which I would add to every dish). Every night I would polish off a whole pot of food, and then snack on a few spoonfuls of peanut butter or track down another donut because I would inevitably still be hungry. Even though I was eating thousands of calories a day more than I ever use to I still lost some weight, and I see why many cyclists have trouble (after months of riding) keeping any fat on their body.
Washington and Oregon have many sparsely populated farm lands where it is easy to camp in a farmer’s yard or in the forest lining the highway. It is also legal to camp on the beach in most of Oregon, which is an absolutely wonderful experience. Along most of the coast there are hiker/ biker spots in the State Park campgrounds that are normally spaced out about every forty to sixty kilometers which leaves you a bit of choice as to how far you feel like biking on any given day. Warm showers is also a great resource for cyclists, especially in big cities or in areas with nowhere to stay. I used a combination of all of these thought my trip, but my favorite was staying with the various people I met on the road who invited me into their homes for the night.
Number of nights in/on:
Here is the breakdown of everything I spent during the thirty-six days I toured the coast. It is very easy to tour on a budget as long as you are willing to sleep in your tent or stay with people you meet along the way, make your own food instead of going out, and resist the temptation to buy unnecessary treats such as coffee, alcohol, and expensive desserts (though I did allow myself a fifty-cent donut or two almost every day).
(I also left with some dehydrated food, and sent myself a package along the way with food I had dehydrated during the previous month)
-Lodging (more like tent space): 22$
-Bike maintenance: 0$
(This should have been much higher, to include new tires, tubes, and a chain in preparation for Asia, but a fellow cyclist insisted on helping me out and buying this gear for me)
(Bike mirror and pepper spray)
I was able to spend less than two-hundred dollars in five weeks of touring. I was very careful about my spendings because as a long-term tourer, the less I spend the longer I can travel, but also because it opens you up to more adventures and experiences. If I were to have a hotel room planned out every night I would not be able to change my plans on the go, stay with people along the way, or know what it’s like to camp at the side of the road hidden in some bushes. I also wanted to prove that it doesn’t have to be expensive to travel. Anyone can do it, you just have to decide you want to.
Total distance: 2903km
Average distance a day: 88km/day (I rode 33 out of 36 days)
Longest day: 131km
Fastest speed: 73km/h
Average speed: 20km/h (though it really depended on the terrain)
Typical speed going uphill: 5km/h
Number of flats: 1
Bike-touring is a healthy, fun, and affordable way to travel. Though I have no idea why sitting on a hard leather saddle by yourself everyday is appealing, somehow it is. For someone like me who thrives off of calling a different place home every night and meeting dozens of new people a day, it couldn’t be more perfect. I have met families who have done this route with three children (ages three to nine), as well as two eighty year olds who were doing a two week section for their birthday. It’s a route anyone can do as long as they set their mind to it, and I guarantee that you will never regret it.