Saturday, November 5, 2011


Getting a big cardboard box for the bike, which is required to take it on the airplane, was eventually easier than I thought. By talking to at least five different people at different places at the airport some days before, I found out that United Airlines sells bike boxes for 10 $ right at the airport. This was a very convenient solution, as the other option would have been to get a box at a bike shop, transport it to the couchsurfer's place, box the bike there, and then get the box with bike inside to the airport. The bike shop boxes would be for free (and much stronger as I learned when I saw the United airlines box), but it would have cost a lot more time and money for an oversized taxi that is big enough to fit the box in. Anyway, I was glad about the airport box solution, which saved a lot of time.

Boxing the bike at the airport in San Diego

Assembling the bike in Frankfurt. Thanks to the cool bike shop in Vancouver, I knew how to do it properly this time.

I like statistics. Not the serious statistics with standard deviation, error bars and so on, just the simple summary of data and facts, some average numbers. So here are some facts about my tour:

Total days from starting in Vancouver to reaching San Diego: 67
- 9 days British Columbia (Canada)
- 6 days Washington
- 11 days Oregon
- 41 days California

- Riding days: 48
- Non-riding days (relaxing, driving in cities, hiking, etc.): 19

- Total distance: 3660 km (2274 miles)
- All counted kilometers (including driving around in cities on resting days, etc.): 4035 km (2507 miles)

- Longest riding day: 134 km (83 miles)
- Shortest riding day: 24 km (15 miles)
- Average distance on riding days: 76 km (47 miles)

Types of accommodation:
- 38 days (57 %) Camping at campsites
- 19 days (28 %) Private places (couchsurfing, warm showers, coincidences, etc.)
- 10 days (15 %) Hostels

Best days:
- Cycling with Ross, Chris and Christine
- Santa Cruz

Worst day:
- The first one (it was raining. But this was one of the very few real raining days. And nobody besides me was on the hiker/biker site at the campground)

Worst and best day at the same time:
- The scenic detour to the lost coast

Some random things I’ve seen or experienced

- Coolest plant: Redwood trees

- Coolest animal: Banana slug (see this picture in Chris' album)

- Most annoying animal: Raccoons (Waschbaeren). They stole my candy.

- Most scary moment: I heard an animal emptying a box of butter outside the tent in the middle of the night and thought it was a bear and realized that I had forgotten some yummy fruit in a bag inside my tent right next to me... But the 'bear' was only a raccoon, and it didn’t come inside for the fruit after finishing the butter.

- Favourite expression: „Howdy“. It is derived from „How do you do?“ and you’re not supposed to give an answer. So it actually means „Hi“, „Hello“ or „Ei guuude, wie?“ Most frequently used by passing racing cyclists.

- Favourite food: A lot. The longer the name, the better, like for example "Chocolate chip peanut butter cookie dough ice cream“

- Another food fact: There is hardly anything that doesn’t contain either peanuts or beans (this is an exaggeration).

- I learned: The star constellation „der Grosse Wagen“ (which means „the big cart or trolley“) is called „the Big Dipper“ in american english, which means „die Grosse Suppenkelle“.

- People are very helpful. A group of four racing cyclists pushed me for some kilometers at the end of a long day (I didn’t ask them to do that!), which was really nice.

- Things I missed: a WiFi capable device. But on the other hand, it was more communicative not to have one. And front panniers (I had accumulated a lot of stuff towards the end)

- A nice coincidence: I randomly met Hardy and Alena from Berlin three times: First time in Canada, two weeks later in Washington, another two weeks later in northern California. Same direction, different routes, however, sometimes by chance the same spot at the same time.

- Coolest cities (not in order): San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Vancouver, Santa Barbara, ... Well, everything except Los Angeles.

A rough map of the route (from The Book "Bicycling the Pacific Coast"

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tijuana, Mexico

I couldn't just stop a stone's throw before the Mexican border, after having crossed the Canadian/USA border two month ago. To complete it, I rode the remaining 35 km from San Diego on my last day. Tijuana is the first city right after the border.

Crossing the border in one direction was easy. There was not even a passport control. I took my bike with me, after having heard very different recommendations about whether to lock it on the other side of the border or better not leaving it anywhere unattended. Thus, I had more time to see other parts than just the main street, where there's a lot of tourist traffic going on. The best encounter, after uncountable "Hey, buy these cheap necklaces" calls after walking only two blocks, was a father with his daughter (around 20), asking me what I'm doing here alone. We talked a little, and I asked them where they would recommend me to eat something real Mexican. They described the way to a Tamales place (interesting stuff wrapped in corn or banana leaves) some blocks off the main street. And then they even offered to take me there! So they took me there and helped me ordering (everything was in Spanish) and I just followed their recommendations, which was much better than just going to some random place on the main street. They were so helpful and made my very short Mexico experience worthwhile (don't know if this is the correct word).

Crossing the border in the other direction was different. A long line of pedestrians and a much longer line of cars made their way through the passport control, it took approximately 45 minutes to get back.
I had planned to take a different route back to San Diego, but it would be dark within one hour, so I took the commuters train. It's very similar to the aboveground underground trains in Frankfurt.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Exploring San Diego

San Diego is much cooler than L.A. Smaller (but still big), easier to cycle, and very friendly. Learning a lot about the city through couchsurfing. Downtown has nice places besides skyscrapers, and there are many cool districts with small bookshops, cafes, Mexican food and so on. And of course the beach. I understand why people live here.



City Highway

Bike rack in North Park

Walking some dogs in Hillcrest

Library spaceship on the huge university campus


Critical Mass II

The only thing I don't like about San Diego is its critical mass. One month has passed since San Francisco, and another Last Friday of the month had come by the time I reached San Diego. Of course I couldn't miss it. I was very much looking forward to it, but unfortunately it was very different from what a critical mass is supposed to be like.

The most annoying difference was the speed - it was rather a race than a relaxing slow ride. Usually, the point of cm is to form a tight crowd of lots of cyclists and keep together during the ride, which only works when the crowd is slow. Only then it can pass intersections and traffic lights together as a unit without cars squeezing between the bikes.
The San Diego mass was rather a stretch than a mass because the riding speed was mostly far above 20 km/h which led to a formation of many small masses and single cyclists with cars between them. The only way this ride didn't completely disperse after a few minutes was the fact that they always take the same route. This is the second this-is-not-really-critical-mass observation. Usually there is neither a definite route nor a destination, the crowd just flows wherever the first ones feel like going. But here it made sense considering the unusual racing attitude.
The San Diego mass doesn't seem to get the point of this event (based on the experiences of Frankfurt and San Francisco, the main emphasis lies on being a joint unit and doing this together rather than splitting up. Especially letting cars get between the cyclists kind of destroys the purpose, as it destroys the unit. And so on, I could continue, but anyway).

During the ride I got some inside information from my couchsurfing host, who had joined the mass a couple of times, but not in a while, mainly for these reasons. It is always as fast as today, the core of the mass rides until around midnight (starting 8 pm), but about 80% of the initial mass has vanished after two hours. Accidents are common. The riders have a much more aggressive attitude, there was a constant shouting and screaming rather than cool music from funny music bikes (a music bike with huge boxes would have a hard time keeping this speed and the music running while bumping through potholes all the time...)

We left the mass around 10 pm after 40 (!) km. By then, it was only a small bunch of riders left, maybe there were split masses behind, who knows. Anyway, it was an experience. And we had some fancy neon lights on the bikes and helmets.

Unknowingly happy before the mass started

Thursday, October 27, 2011

San Diego

I think I'm there. So ... that was it. Cool.

Didn't find a 'San Diego' sign when entering the city to take a Yeah-I've-made-it-picture. But then I bumped into this in La Jolla, northern San Diego:

It almost felt like being back in Frankfurt very suddenly, where the big brother of this statue is doing exactly the same in front of the Messe. Only that this one is really much smaller.

Some more words and pictures about Los Angeles. It was not as bad as I had expected, and I had really expected the worst, because everyone had warned me and recommended not to stop there at all. It is indeed not a bike city, but it's possible to bike there, just like in any other big city. There are actually some bike lanes, they are just not used very much.

City freeway, no bikes

In L.A. I stayed at a couchsurfing related place in Culver City and explored the urban infinity from there. To find my way around, I draw a map, which only I could read and understand, it looked like this:

I did pretty much all the touristy stuff.

Leaving L.A. was another challenge, and a contrast of 'scenery' and weather:

L.A. beach

This cloud was almost black, but it didn't rain

South of L.A. finally

It took two days from Los Angeles to San Diego. The last campground I stayed at on this trip (near San Clemente) was squeezed between railroad tracks and the ocean, not far from the highway, so it was pretty noisy. Most part of the campground was empty, but three tents on the small hiker/biker spot right behind the bathroom. But anyways, it was the last time, and it was warm, and dry. I met the first surfer/bikers who were cycling the coast and surfing wherever he waves were inviting to surf.

The last day to San Diego had the best bike paths of the whole coast. It was partly on the old abandoned coastal Highway 101, which is no longer used by many cars because there's the Interstate 5 right next to it, which is not allowed for bikes.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Los Angeles

I reached Los Angeles today. Now it's only two more cycling days to San Diego, but I'm probably exploring L.A. for 1-2 days before finishing. Time is going so fast.

Just some pictures for now:

Solvang, a town founded by Danes, but now very touristy and american:

Lake Cachuma, inland of Santa Barbara

Bike roundabout and freeway on the campus of Santa Barbara University

First glimpse of the final destination:

Constantly changing landscape

Entering L.A.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Big Sur

Big Sur refers to both a long scenic stretch along the coast, starting south of Monterey, as well as a small 'city' in the middle of this region. There is not much civilization, but a lot of tourism. Highway One leads the stream of tourists in RVs (Wohnwagen), cars and on bicycles along this region.
Ever since far up in the north, people keep telling me about Big Sur, that it will be the most scenic and beautiful and stunning part of the whole coastal ride. One of the couchsurfing associated people in Santa Cruz said that you don't really see when you get there, there is no sign saying 'Big Sur region starts here', you just sense it. I got a lot of recommendations about what to see and do in Big Sur, and once more I realised that the information you get by talking to people is much more worth than anything you look up in the internet. And without internet, I'm very dependent on this old-fashioned source of information, which is great, and much better (the internet cafe where I started writing this post is the result of a random encounter after some coincidences, but this is a different story)

Sykes Hot Springs

I camped at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and took a two days break from cycling to hike to the Sykes hot springs, a 16 km hike. As the weather was good, I didn't take the tent, and as few things as possible in and on top of the very primitive Walmart backpack. The problem of leaving all my other stuff somewhere while being away for one night was not as easily solved as I hoped. I started talking to people again to get some information.

First to the Trailhead Station, from where the 'Pine Ridge Trail' to the Sykes camp starts, both to get information about the hike, and to ask about storing faciclities for luggage, hoping they would offer me to store things at the Station. But they wouldn't. I asked in the lodge next to the campground, and at the entrance kiosk. Everyone just sent me to the place where I had just come from, they would have more information. The last chance was the campground host (this is something like the janitor, Hausmeister, of the campground), who lives in a trailor opposite to the hiker/biker area. Started by explaining my plan and situation, without directely asking if they would take care of my stuff for one night, but secretly hoping they would offer exactely this. And they did! It was not a problem for them, I could just put my paniers beneath their trailor, where they would be safer than in the raccoon proof (Waschbaer-sicher) boxes at the hiler/biker site or in some treetrunk or bushes (actually I had looked for such places around the campground as well, and found a very convenient climbable treetrunk of about 3 meters height with a nice cavity on top, making luggage invisible from the ground, which would have been the solution, if I hadn't found the very friendly and helpful campground host). And finally I could start.

It was a 5 hours up and down walk that was eventually rewarded by a bath in the manmade pool of a warm spring in a very natural surrounding. Cooling down in the river and back to the hot spring again. Like a hot tub.
It felt remote, even though there were people around. Luckily they were around, as the trail was not very obvious and hard to find in the end, crossing a shallow stream a couple of times to reach the spring.

'Camp' doesn't mean that it's a campground. There are spots with fireplaces along the river before the hot spring, where you can pitch tents or just sleep. I set up my primitive camp. The ground was very uneven, so I spent most of the night crawling up the camping mat after slowly sliding down while turning around. Went for another 'swim' in the warm water the next morning. The way back felt much shorter.
The next day I sensed very sifferent muscles that hadn't been used so far when cycling.

Henry Miller Memorial Library

This was another not-to-miss recommendation. It is rather a bookstore than a library, and it is more than that. He wrote some controversial books that were first prohibited but later recognized as pioneering literature. He had lived in Big Sur for 15 years. The library was founded by a friend of Henry Miller. It is a cute wooden house with a big garden to relax, coffee and tea available for a donation, a cat strolling around, a guitar, a piano, free internet, and of course lots of good books. I mean really good books. Much of Henry Miller of course, but also many other authors, some rare ones that you might not find in normal bookstores. If I had a trailor, I would have bought a lot of books there.
Only cycled 46 km this day because I spent more that three hours in the book store.

Big Sur Coast

For me, the 'Big Sur feeling' started with or after this bookstore. Accompanied by its atmosphere, the scenery from now on was really stunning. On the pictures, it might just look like any of the other coast pictures of previous posts, but in reality it was different. More coast, but just more beautiful than before.

And about these invasive plants, that I was prevented to spread along the coast (see Post 'Approaching San Francisco' below): They don't seem to be a problem of northern California only, they grow everywhere:

So I don't need to feel bad about having carried the natural flag for a few miles. It's probably not due to touring cyclists that their seeds are spread along the coast.

I reached Kirk Creek campground at the end of the Henry-Miller day, late despite the short distance. Saw the sun setting in the ocean from the hiker/biker site, and found out that it sets at 6:25 already. The days get shorter.

Campground in the evening

Campground next morning

The next day was a long one again (112 km), from Kirk Creek to Morro Bay, which is a bigger city of around 10.000 people. The first half of the day was still part of the Big Sur section, this time in very dynamic fog. Met two cyclist from Switzerland during coffee break, two more cyclists appeared at the same little shop. So far, I haven't seen any cyclist from before San Francisco again.

After a long hill, I think Big Sur was over. The scenery changed from rocky, foggy coast to dry, hot wide fields, whenever the road led inland for a while.