About twenty years ago I bicycled the coast of California, from Crescent City to San Diego. I didn’t prepare much, except for the fact that I didn’t own a car. I bicycled everywhere. I lived about three miles from work and bicycled both ways every day. I had a Univega Gran Touring set up with racks front and back, and panniers all around.
Prep Number One: The coldest night of my life
A few months before I cycled the coast I did a two-day ride through the Cuyamaca Mountains. Here’s the Google Map of the route, and a picture:
I rode up along highway 8, and covered about 40 miles that day, the longest ride I’d ever been on. That night I stayed at one of the campgrounds in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. It’s not common knowledge that state parks took walk/ride ins regardless of how full they were. They didn’t give me an assigned spot — they just pointed to an empty area and said I could stay there, but not to set up until later in the evening.
I only had a K-Mart special sleeping bag with me: no tent, no pad, no additional clothes. That night was so cold that I didn’t sleep much. I closed the sleeping back around my head (it wasn’t designed that way) and breathed through the small remaining hole. I would doze off, wake, open the bag enough to look out and see that it was still dark, curse my fate and stupidity for not bringing more clothes, and then try to get back to sleep. The next day I found out that in Julian (lower in the mountains) it had been sub-freezing that night. I’m lucky I didn’t lose some toes in addition to sleep…
Prep Number Two: I have now ridden farther than I ever have before, and I am only half way there
I wanted to get some real distance in, and I wanted to try out the panniers, which I had bought after the Cuyamaca ride. The YMCA did a two-day double-century: 100 miles up to Los Angeles on a Saturday, then 100 miles back to San Diego on Sunday. That seemed like a reasonable goal. Of course, I lived in La Mesa, twenty miles from the starting point. No problem! I just started out an hour early and… when I got to the start, the others had already left. So I simply turned right (north) and followed them.
There’s a reason most people ride the coast north to south — and it’s not because it’s downhill, as you will hear at least once if you tell anyone you’re going to ride the coast. It’s because the prevailing onshore winds tend to be behind you if you ride south, but ahead of you if you ride north. So by the time I got to the wind tunnel also known as Camp Pendleton, I was pretty tired. With my panniers front and back loaded with stuff I wouldn’t need until the actual coast ride and a ten to twenty MPH headwind, I was making six to seven MPH heading through some pretty empty territory.
As I rode along at that miserable pace, I hit sixty miles for the day and realized that I had at that point ridden as far as I ever had before (day two of the Cuyamaca ride, and that really was all downhill) and I was only half way through the day’s ride. That was a serious low point. I kept going, though, and made it. The ride back was hard, but not nearly as hard as that.