I started my tour in July 2013 by cycling down the Pacific West Coast as a warm up; a warm up which turned into an amazing five weeks as the cycling was easy, the hiker/biker campsites were a great way to meet other cyclists, and the scenery was beautiful. Though I had never toured, knew absolutely nothing about bikes and hadn’t trained at all for this trip, this didn’t seem to matter as I was able to start out slowly (doing fifty or so kilometers a day) before increasing my mileage when it felt right. Within a few weeks I was cycling 80-120km/day, and loving every minute of it. Along this route I stayed with various hospitable families who renewed my faith in humanity, was encouraged along by passing cars, swam in rivers amongst the gigantic redwoods, and fell asleep beside the beach listening to the crashing waves. I also met dozens of other cyclists, from students to retirees, doing this same route which made nights around the campfire a whole lot of fun.
Distance: 3,000km (Vancouver to San Diego).
Time needed: I did it in five weeks though I would suggest six to give a few more days off.
Highlights: Cycling through the red woods, hiker/biker campsites, swimming in the ocean.
Road surface: All paved.
Traffic: Lots on highway (large shoulder), less on smaller country roads (no shoulder).
Best season: June – September (otherwise the northern coast is very rainy); Completed July ’13.
Water/food availability: Easy to find both.
Solo female: No problem; you will probably receive more kindness and homestays than the boys.
Overall difficulty: Very low – easiest route I’ve done.
The hiker/biker campsites are located every 60-100km down the coast and are one of the things which makes this route so simple and unique. These sites, which charge five dollars a person, are in the normal campgrounds but are spots reserved for non-car campers. Besides giving you a relatively cheap camping spot (and bathroom, running water, and sometimes hot shower) they also give you a place to meet other cyclists on this popular social route. You end up knowing all of the cyclists within a few days of yourself, and at night, there were often five to ten of us (and one night, over twenty!) all cooking dinner together at these designated spots. It’s also possible to wild camp if you get off the highway a bit, something I did about every other night. (And if you are stuck, just ask a nearby farmer if you can sleep on his land; I never got no for an answer and even ended up getting invited inside by families.)
I was able to complete this route on an average of five dollars a day as I spent every night in my tent, and cooked every meal (notably pasta, oatmeal, and bananas and peanut butter) for myself instead of eating out. Though the USA can be expensive if you are eating at restaurants and staying in hotels, there were many other students on low budgets as well, and I would say that ten dollars a day is a comfortably cheap budget to shoot for.
I can’t stress enough how great this route is for beginners. You don’t need a special touring bike – I even met someone doing it on a fixie – just a workable bicycle with two back panniers, a tent, and a backpacking stove. Though I know cycling touring seems daunting at first, within a few hours along this route, you will realize how simple and easy it really is. If you have always wanted to tour but haven’t had the guts to starts, this is your route… Pack up your bike and go!
This route is really straightforward as it follows highway 101 until California where it jumps over to highway 1 for the remainder. There are occasionally country road deviations which are usually signed from the highway. My favorite section was from Astoria, Oregon down to San Fransisco, so if you have less than six weeks available, I would suggest just doing this middle section.
Many cyclists use either the Adventure Cycling Association maps, or the book “Bicycling the Pacific Coast,” while completing this route. Though it’s definitely not necessary road wise (as you literally just follow highway 101/1), someone gave me the book a week or two in and I found it useful as it laid out all of the hiker/biker sites. In the big cities (San Francisco, LA, San Diego) I used warmshowers as there are no campsites and accommodation is expensive, and I and found three great hosts which made my night or two stays in these cities fun.
We currently live in Astoria OR and love hosting cyclists, so make sure to get in touch before you pass by!
Feel free to comment with your own thoughts, corrections, or updates in order to help others looking to complete this route.
*This is the first in a series of blogposts about our favorites routes from our two-year South America and Asian tour. Coming up next week; the Northern Indian Himalayas.*