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Posted on 10 April 2015
in Stories

The Brompton Traveler

California Coast on a Brompton

I love the flexibility of riding a Brompton bike in a large city like London. You can quickly fold it up really small take it on a bus, or a train and start your ride where it is most convenient or practical to you. What if you can carry the same concept not to a daily commute to work but rather to discover a new holiday destination, biking the most spectacular routes while using trains or buses for accessing the best locations? Finding inspiration from people who did it before me I decided to give it a try, give up the struggle and challenges of packing a large bike for airplanes or train travel, for a much more compact solution. To my surprise I must say that my last three years bike touring on a Brompton have always turned out to be memorable adventures thanks to this little bike. 

In 2014 I set off on a twenty day and 1300 kilometres ride along the Pacific Coast, from the northern California border to San Luis Obispo. During the trip I had to take one bus transfer to cut about hundred kilometres off busy roads I had ridden in the past and knew were best avoided. I just pulled aside once I reached the bus stop and in less than ten minutes the bike my camping gear and clothes and everything I was carrying, was neatly packed and ready to board the bus, that’s freedom!

Grant Pass - Cave Junction 

It started on the 4th of September with a flight from London to San Francisco and then another transfer bus ride from there to the Oregon-California border where I would start cycling; first joining the Pacific Coast and then descending south, past San Francisco, Big Sur to San Luis Obispo before another train transfer to LA. Once I reached Grants Pass I quickly unfolded the bike and followed a well tested routine of sharing my luggage between my backpack at the rear and a T-Bag at the front of the bike. I was always under the scrutiny of the locals, they were stunned by the ingenuity of the fold and horrified when told how far I was planning to ride on what looked to them to be no more than a toy! In no time I was ready to jump on the saddle and start pedalling, waving goodbye at them and setting off on a new adventure. A 10 hours bus ride and a couple of hours riding to complete my first day and reaching the little mountain town of Cave Junction where I could set up my tent for the first night and a well deserved dinner!

Cave Junction - Jedediah Smith

I left the Mountain campsite late as I knew it would be a short day to my favourite campsite in the world, Jedediah Smith. In fact the sixty kilometres were tougher than I thought maybe due to the fact that I was surviving off 'cyclists food', bread and peanut butter, bananas, cookies and energy drinks, as there were no restaurants in this remote area. Roads were quieter than expected and so was the campsite. Jedediah Smith after the summer peak season was a lonely place to camp. I met a chap called James, one of those touring cyclists you often meet in California, not entirely sure about where they left from and even less certain as to where they are heading to. James was no exception as he mentioned that each time he travels to California he gets lighter and lighter as his stuff gets stolen bit by bit. When he's got nothing left he knows the time is right to head back to Virginia! Surprisingly the evening got more lively as a private wedding party with a three men bluegrass band started playing under the towering giant trees! 

Jedediah Smith - Elk Praire

This day was one of the highlights from my trip. First exiting the campsite the climb on 199 towards Crescent City is stunning through massive redwood groves, then on to Elk Prairie. Newton Drury lane, a scenic road off highway 101 where you could gently rolling on the bike you are offered the grandest display of massive trees lasting through all the descent to the campsite. 


I woke up early morning to the camper most dreaded sound, light drops of rain falling on my tent. As I peeked out a dense fog engulfed Elk Prairie. I decided to set off early as I had a connection bus to catch from Trinidad. On the way out of the campsite gate a huge and extremely grumpy elk crossed my path,  with her cubs nearby I could see she didn't like my presence at all! We played hide and seek behind trees and I was mostly the one doing the hiding! I got trained with bears a bit by Canadians I met along the way but elk? What is one meant to do faced with a grumpy old elk after all? Should I sprint out and risk being chased, should I retreat and risk being chased, my options seemed dire! Just at the right moment a large van was exiting the campsite and driving slowly rescued me and my shuttered pride as I ducked behind it and rode slowly away. The day went according to plan. In Trinidad I tested again the convenience of a brompton bike. I remembered from last year that the next fifty miles through Arcata and Eureka had lots of traffic and not much in the way of a scenery. As I had to gain some ground this was my scheduled fifty miles cheat and it worked a treat. I packed my brompton in fifteen minutes got all my stuff on the bus and was whisked back to sanity all the way to Scotia 80 miles away and the starting place for Avenue of the Giants; the sky had turned all blue and after the coast fog it was a relief to cycle again in a warm sun along one of the most beautiful stretches of road on this planet. Burlington camp is a great place to spend the night and where most bikers on this route stop. I pitched my tent and met Menno, a Dutchman who is cycling on a recumbent bike from Alaska to Mexico and Spencer a Canadian who started his trip in Edmonton and is planning to go as far as Ecuador. It was nice to finally get a good chat and share stories of the past few days and plans for the days to come. 


Glorious riding day. It started out as a cool day biking through the other half of Avenue of the Giants, another display of enormous redwood trees one is constantly staring up in awe. It's nice to have met Spencer and Menno yesterday, I got to cycle with them here and there. Once reached Garberville, the Mecca of Californian hippies, I bumped again into a guy from Slovenia I had met on the bus. He was with a black blind man and as I asked him if he was his friend he told me an interesting story. He said in fact he had been a couple of days with no money due to some issues with his credit card. He then met this man who wanted to go to Garberville but needed some help as he was blind. He also had terminal cancer and the slovenian guy meeting him realised his situation was much more bearable than he had thought before… Helping the man it turned out that he got food and motel costs taken care of too! Tonight in Standish Hickey campsite everybody is jotting down notes on their diaries, memories of an unforgettable day ridden amongst towering trees.


Another day blessed by blue skies and a hot sun. Today was the climb over Leggett hill on highway 1 and back to the coast. With all the fog I got last year on this stretch of the road I was pretty weary to climb over the hill. In fact at a certain point I could see dense fog behind the mountains and really prepared for another cold and wet ride but somehow it was just a a little scary cluster that soon dissipated. I was really excited to finally see this bit of coast too! I stopped at,the same cafe where I met Max last year and together with Spencer and Menno had a good chat before setting off each one at his own pace to the final destination of Russian Gulch. During these trips you quickly realise how fifteen years of internet has turned most people into unconscious addicts! Most cyclists stay in campsites with no internet connections and at times it seems we are all pretending to be cycling down the coast while in fact we are all desperately seeking for a wifi spot! Just when we thought Menno must have changed his mind and stayed somewhere else at about seven his recumbent came down the steep hill to the hiker biker site with his flashing lights a huge grin on his face and a large sigh of relief for having made it despite being late! 


Early wake up, clear sky, no fog in sight for miles which is pretty unusual around here. I started the day with the usual coffee at the first town of Mendocino… the wifi search again! Soon after starting the ride I met up with Spencer and our speed seemed to match nicely as we ended up riding together most of the day until we reached Gualala Point campground. We cycled fast but it was a pretty gruelling day of constant climbs and descents where it was impossible to find a good rhythm. The fog came and went too many times but this year around it was much better than last year and it felt almost pleasant to cool down after baking in a really hot sun for days. Villages on this part of the coast are so sparse that I ended up stopping in the same places I had stopped last year. At the supermarket before the campsite we thought we would get a bottle of wine to celebrate our last day ride together but in the end Spencer decided to continue on tomorrow so will be riding together again. As far as Menno is concerned we were hoping he would turn up late but this time he never did so I might not get a chance to say goodbye. Probably two days left before I will reach San Francisco where I will get a chance to get a day rest, restore my energies and get ready for the other half of the ride to Los Angeles. 


I completed even this stage and will be right on schedule into San Francisco where Fort Mason hostel is booked for two nights and a deserved rest day. Menno had made contact saying he would make it here tonight but all the hills got to him and he stopped just short which means that I won't be able to say goodbye. It was great to cycle with him and as he once said we all got inspired from each other during these few days. Again today it was mostly me and Spencer at times sticking together other times just setting off on our own to then catch up again. Fog was quite thick at times but often there were also breaks of blue sky making for great opportunities to snap pictures and take more movie clips. Tomorrow will be by far the longest day so far but will have all day to ride it and won't have to worry about time to pitch my tent as I will finally have a proper bed and a hot shower waiting for me. 


I made it to San Francisco, at least half way is completed! I left the campsite while Spencer was still tucked in his tent. He was taking a day off so we had already said goodbye last night. I expected a pretty tough day. For once it was about 115 kilometres to cover to get to San Francisco. In Tomales I met once again the Oregon guys we had met the last couple of days. They are credit card touring and staying in motels so they seem to always get a head start on us campers! They said it would be a very hot day to which I said it was great since last year on this stretch of the road I was freezing cold and unable to see beyond arm length, enveloped in a thick fog for most of the day. I had a blue sky all day but the heat was pretty extreme and at times I felt I had to really hide in the shadow and catch my breath. The temperature was a great help at lunchtime in Port Reyes where I bought some lunch at the local supermarket, sat on a bench in a local park and spread out my humid tent that didn't take too long to get dry. Three quarters of the road covered, dehydrated and on the verge of a heat stroke I went into Samuel Taylor campground to refresh, drink lots of water and cool down under the big trees. The excitement of the Golden Gate bridge looming ahead helped me cover the rest. Riding the bridge is each time an experience, a stretched arm welcoming you to the big city. It is a spectacle to behold, the scenery all around is spectacular and with no fog, this time I could take it all in very slowly, with lots of stops for filming and pictures too. I got to the hostel as the sun was about to set, I had been riding from 8am to 7pm and despite the comfort of riding a Brompton, my bum and my legs finally really deserved a day break! After tomorrow I will set off South. I will miss riding with Menno and Spencer but I am also looking forward to the new adventures it will bring; after about ten years once again I will get a chance to ride up and down the Big Sur Coast. 


It was time to cycle the hills of San Francisco trying to figure the way out. Due to quite a bit of carelessness and not checking properly the city maps I ended up visiting quite a bit of unexpected hills eventually getting to Golden Gate park and out of the city. It took me a good hour to get on the right track, just as well that the journey today was not as taxing. Being Sunday I was also in for a bit of a shock as far as traffic was concerned. With another blue sky day and hot temperature forecasted, half of San Franciscans seemed to be heading in the same direction in search for a sandy beach and good surf. So far along highway one traffic had been surprisingly low but certainly today was not the case! Pacifica, the next big town down the coast was another challenge and it was with some relief that I finally figured out my way onto Highway one and in the right direction. Despite those hiccups I managed to get to Half Moon Bay camp in good time and meet some new cyclists at the hiker biker site. Amy and Victor, a very experienced couple of cyclists from Arizona, impressed me straight away as they pulled out a bottle of red wine and were drinking it in style too, in what seemed proper wine glasses! They have what seems to be a ten men tent and Victor said he likes to travel heavy, very unlike me! Not surprisingly Amy said that they were such keen cyclists that they even got married riding a bike through a chapel in Las Vegas! Victor seemed to be pretty experienced and advised on avoiding the last two days to Los Angeles as traffic there gets really heavy so I will have to decide if I will end my bike trip in San Luis Obispo or make it to Santa Barbara. I have a Brompton right? The campsite is right on the beach and tonight I was able to take some nice pictures of the sunset and will sleep to the soothing sound of crashing waves. 


Today ride was really easy compared to what I was used before San Francisco. The hills were much gentler and fewer and for most of the day a sweet tail wind pushed me on real fast. At the start I soon joined Amy and Victor and after having a bit of a chat I moved on as they have plenty of time and are taking easy and short days instead. Their usual parting phrase was 'keep the rubber down' which I suppose it must mean something like ride your bike upright, do not under any circumstance flip over and land on your head...I heed their good advice. My first break for the day was Pigeon Point where the is a lighthouse and around it a few buildings that function as a youth hostel. It looked a really amazing and secluded place to spend the night but It was far too early in the day to even think about stopping. The fog and clouds had burned off, as they say here, turning the second part of the day into a glorious sunny and hot afternoon. My usual navigation issues in cities meant that it took me a while to figure out how to get around Santa Cruz and to the campsite. Writing this overlooking the ocean where dolphins and birds are having great fun playing with the wind and the waves. Tonight the youngest cyclists on the pacific coast joined the camp; Jack and John twins about two years old, traveling with their American dad and Thai mom on a trailer! 


The plan to take a shuttle ride to Monterey was changed at the last minute! I decided to ride it as I will still make it in time to San Luis Obispo, my final riding destination. Unlike ten years ago when I badly got lost riding through the unremarkable town of Watsonville, this time I got most of the turns right and despite not having been the best stretch in my trip so far it was much better than expected! I must say I felt a little uneasy cycling and enjoying myself while Mexican labourers working in extreme heat were involved in back breaking strawberry picking. Seeing more strawberries than I have ever seen in my entire life, I had to have a basket at a farm. They were one third the price in Monterey and probably twice as sweet too! Monterey is one of those many Californian towns that seems blessed with prosperity, sun, great sceneries, making everybody who can afford to live here in an extremely good and cheerful disposition! Spending an afternoon around town, recharging phone, ipad, camera and legs before riding Big Sur from tomorrow where towns are really sparse for about 200 kilometres and wifi unheard of! 


Yesterday, very interesting night at the Monterey Veterans memorial park! I kind of expected it would be; any cool town with good weather and by the coast in California, ends up being a magnet for vagrants and travellers and where would you think they spend the night? The local Hilton and Marriott are on the pricey side so despite the long hike up the hill, veterans memorial park at six dollars is the best bargain in town. I spent all afternoon and early evening downtown sipping nice coffee and watching all the beautiful people go by and when I got back and into my tent it was an interesting night. Jack and John, the twins were taking it in turn to scream and cry out loud and getting the large Monterrey dog population all excited and into a howling contest. A mother with daughter, as I heard later, got upset as on top of that there was a competitive snorer and she decided in the middle of the night to move her tent and of course make it known to everybody that she was extremely crossed while doing so! As far as my neighbour goes, until about 11 at night he held the most interesting conversation and although I never saw his face, by the morning it was like we were childhood friends and I had always known him. No eavesdropping mind you, he was loud enough to be heard over my radio blasting news through my earphones too! To cut it short his name was Howard but on a dating site he went as Steve, divorced with three kids, a girl 17, and two boys 20 and 21. I am not sure if the camp was home for him but he had this hour long conversation with a girl from Pacifica he had contacted through a dating site and he was so eloquent that by now she probably thought having finally met the guy of her life. His improbable story went along the lines that he was a stage actor, with popular radio shows in LA, that he recently bought a house in Monterey  ( probably with a serious roof leaking problem I wondered, if he had to camp instead…) and on and on the fairy tale went! They are meeting soon in Pacifica too, good luck to them! The most disturbing news came later in his conversations with a close girl friend and went something like this: 'you know I am strong man and always go through challenges don't you? How do you think I survived years in jail sharing my cell with those murderers'. Not the kind of thing you want to hear in the middle of the night when it is too dark to move your tent somewhere else and very far! In the morning everybody at the hiker biker camp survived, the only common complain was a serious migraine and general lack of sleep. We all had a common goal, getting out of there as soon as possible and ride down the hill fast! After that a brief stop at Monterey Starbucks was a return to sanity and a hot cup of coffee and another sunny day ahead made me really looking forward to the ride down the Big Sur coast. It was an amazing day starting with Seventeen Mile ride, through Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and ending in Carmel all amazingly exclusive places with extremely large houses and perfectly landscaped golf courses. Despite the artificial landscape around, the road was as incredible as I remembered it, always by the coast and with hardly any traffic. In Pebble Beach I was lucky to witness the spectacle of whales! Eight humpback whales were feeding on sardines just a hundred meters from the coast and for half an hour I was staring at their majesty and wishing that my large camera zoom was for once just a bit larger. Carmel was a quick stop and I can confirm I still would like to be reborn there if I ever get another chance! Veterans Memorial by now was long forgotten and seemed just a bad dream. I reached Pfeiffer Sur State Park and it turned out the second best campsite I have stayed in so far with fantastic hiker biker reached after crossing a wooden bridge and set in a spacious redwood forest and by a brook! 


I was awoken by a heavy rain fall and it didn't really stop by early morning so I had no choice but to start my day on a pretty damp note! After fifteen days of uninterrupted gorgeous weather it came as a bit of a shock. Not only rain but heavy fog prevented me from seeing much of the Big Sur coast for the whole morning and it was so thick that I had to ride with my lights flashing and being really careful descending the steep hills with my small wheels. The afternoon as I approached Gorda and then descended to San Simeon the sky opened up and I was at least able to dry out a bit and take a few shots of the remaining miles along the coast. I stopped at the sea lions beach that I remembered visiting in the past and was much more crowded this time. Once reached San Simeon state park James had just arrived and setting up is wet tent and we both discussed our challenging day! 


Today was a really fast ride into San Luis Obispo. The usual feelings of happiness for having completed my 1300 kilometres tour mixed with the sadness of starting to realise that another great adventure was drawing to an end. The ride was about 60 kilometres long but it was much flatter than the past two weeks and a strong wind was pushing me on faster than I had ever expected. My little wheeled Brompton worked wonders again and proved such a reliable bike that rarely goes unnoticed. I cycled on along Turri Road a little trafficked side road scattered with hills I cycled onto ten years ago. Before I realised it I saw the first sign of San Luis Obispo, as pretty as the university town I remembered.