I love looking back this time of year – did I keep my New Year’s Resolutions? What new places did I go to? Did I get outside as much as I had promised myself?
And, one of the things that came up the other day while thinking about what the new year will bring, was my first post in 2016. It was about the top five bicycle trips I wanted to take this year. While I didn’t hit all of them, I’m pretty proud that I committed to 3 out of 5 of them – and each one was better than the last. In fact, one of them – cycling the 101 – was so darn amazing that I’m actually planning to do it again next month. This time all the way from San Francisco to San Diego with two good friends.
This tour will be a bit different, now that I know what to expect. I’ll be packing less food, more bike tools and overall carrying a lighter load (I’m not lugging 100+ pounds up those Big Sur inclines again!). But that got me thinking about how nice it would have been to have this information in advance of my first trip. Sure there are numerous blogs on gear, routes, etc., but I had failed to find a quick how-to guide for this trip. Since one of the more common things people say to me is, “You are crazy! I wish I could do that!” I figured I’d show you just how you (or anyone, really) CAN make it happen.
Seriously! You don’t have to know how to repair a bike or have extensive backcountry experience – you don’t even have to own a bike for this particular ride! Here’s what you need to know:
Time and Route
Taking off anywhere from one to two weeks will give you a great sampling of some of the best views the West Coast has to offer. This isn’t about setting a time record – when I went, I took off a week, went at my own pace and enjoyed myself along the way. The train and all its frequent stops along the coast makes getting back to San Diego (or LA) really simple – just head to the train station and hop on. Since I didn’t know how far I’d make it down the coast, I even delayed buying my ticket until I was onboard.
As for route and navigation, I’d highly recommend starting at the Golden Gate Bridge. Riding your bike across such an iconic landmark is really a great start to a ride that will only keep getting better. From there, the entire route is paved highway or road, with some being busier than others. Just be aware that you won’t only stay on Highway 101 or Highway 1 the entire time. Some parts are now expressway where bikes are prohibited, but the bike route detours are well-marked and easy to follow. I got along just fine by following the signs and using my phone when in towns, but a basic map would be perfect for the job.
Know Where you Want to Stay (and Plan Ahead)
Most cyclists have three options when it comes to sleeping at night:
3) Warm Showers
Hotels are everywhere along the coast, ranging from standard roadside budget motels to luxury villas. Once you get a rough idea of the mileage you want to cycle (I’d recommend no more than 50), it’s easy to mark your stopping towns on a map and search for accommodations accordingly. I’d strongly suggest booking 2-3 months in advance and not relying on things being available as you go. I ran into a pinch one night and had to bike 10 miles in the dark to the nearest hotel – a $200/night shabby motel with a broken neon light out front.
Pros: If you stay in a hotel, you don’t have to carry the extra weight of your camping gear, the weather will never be an issue, and you can expect a daily shower.
Cons: It’s the most expensive option, and pulls you away from the natural beauty all along the coast (sleeping under redwoods, on a beach, etc). Plus, it’s harder to meet all the other awesome cyclists at camp each night.
Upon first glance, camping may seem to involve a lot of tricky logistics but there are Hike and Bike Campsites set aside specifically for people cycling down the coast. These are first-come, first-serve (note: they never actually fill up – the ranger will always help you find a home for the night) and are offered at RV parks, state and local parks, and even some beaches. Just use Parks.Ca.Gov to find all of them and mark them on your map – you’ll never pay more than $5/person and, if plans change, reservations aren’t needed.
Pros: In my opinion, this is the best way to experience the coast and spend time in nature when not on your bike. You’ll meet amazing people, save some money and still never be too far from take-out pizza if you don’t want to cook.
Cons: You do need to know where these sites are in advance, as not every park has cyclist discounts. Additionally, the conditions vary at each one – there is never a guarantee of warm water or a shower when camping.
On that note, Warm Showers brings home the third – and most adventurous – option. For those of you who previously thought a warm shower was simply something you did to start each day, it’s actually a website that connects touring cyclists with hosts who are willing to put them up for the night. It got it’s name because of cyclists’ continuous search for a warm shower! In short, it’s like an Airbnb with no money exchange. You can log on to the site, set up a profile (note: please take the extra time to do this – people want to know who they are inviting in!) and send a quick, personalized message to someone. Although this seems like it would also be the most spontaneous accommodation option, I’d actually reach out to hosts a month or two in advance – yes, the route is actually that popular! That being said, most hosts are also bicycle tourists so they are very understanding of a last minute cancellation or changed plans.
Pros: you meet locals, have a roof over your head and save some money along the way.
Cons: Can be a bit scary your first time out, but is always worth it!
Ok, so now you have those things settled, for my next post, I’ll dig into what to pack, how to get a bike (if you don’t have one) and a couple of ‘can’t miss’ stops along the way!
**All photos are property of The Pedal Project and were taken by my on my tour down the Pacific Coast in May 2016.