Facing off climate wildfires as our inaugural tour comes to an end
After an amazing 3 months of travel, we had decided we were sure we wanted to continue on for a whole year. We had no idea what was just around the corner, how much we learned on the way, and how much it made us want to continue even more.
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Disaster! Ebike Breakdown
After staying the night at the Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, we headed south again to continue towards California and home. We had made excellent time heading down 101 and across the bridge into North Bend when out-of-nowhere our bike started acting up. We’d had a few times when the electric motor came loose in the bike frame, but this time was different. No matter what we did, the wheel would not stay in the bike frame’s dropouts.
We thought for sure we’d have to quit the trip, but what came next was something we never expected. Check out the video to see what happened.
@trailcooperative #tandem #ebike destroyed 400 miles from home #biketour #coosbay #travel #misadventures #kindnessofstrangers #solar ♬ original sound - SPTC
It was a roller-coaster of emotions, but we were so happy to be able to keep going and finish this leg of our journey. After the amazing help from Front Street Community Bikes got us up and running with the new tandem, we sent the parts for our electric bike back to our family in San Francisco. We would be finishing the trip with just our own leg power—a very different experience!
Back to Mendocino without electric power
Although we’d seen the South Oregon Coast and the Lost Coast of California before, it was still a beautiful trip. The one major difference was that we were now doing some of the bigger coastal mountain climbs without any assistance from electricity! We were definitely far more tired than we had been before. Also, because of the days lost during the bike breakdown we were running up against the clock as we needed to be to San Francisco in time to take care of a family member’s dog. Needless to say, we were getting very tired.
It was also during this time that we were derailed by a heavy rain on this tour. Sadly, after having lost our nice tent to a theft back in Washington, we had gotten a second-hand tent that didn’t hold up to the weather as well as we’d hoped, leading to an unexpected night in a hotel in Brookings, OR on the second day of torrential rains. We spent the first night of rain bailing out the tent and a wet sleeping bag is no fun.
One the way back, we did make time to visit two of the Redwoods State Parks that we missed on the way up, Jedidiah Smith and Humbolt Redwoods. Jedediah was a particularly nice secluded hiker/biker camp beneath the giant trees and along a river.
We found a way to make up some time, by disassembling our bike and using public transit to pass through Arcata, Eureka and Fortuna, CA. To get the tandem on a public bus, we took off both wheels and brought it inside, standing upright next to Will. Needless to say, the bus driver was not too happy with us initially, but then took us under his wing to make sure we got where we needed to go. This ended up saving us possibly two days overall as it allowed us to move quickly while getting a much needed rest.
This brought us into the Avenue of the Giants for one last tour of the Redwoods before we headed home. It was truly surreal crossing the King Range again and coming out to the ocean that we’d called home.
@trailcooperative back to where it all started #fortbraggca #mendocinocoast ♬ original sound - SPTC
Resetting for the next segment
When we set out on our tour of the Pacific Northwest, we really didn’t know what the experience would be like. In all honesty, we were terrified that we’d end up hating the experience or that it would be too mentally and physically exhausting. But in actuality, it turned out to be the exact opposite. It was invigorating to explore the wilderness and tremendously exciting to be transitioning to a simpler and more visceral way of living day-to-day. Not to mention inspiring to experience an abundance of human kindness and see the amazing works folks everywhere are doing to make the world a better place.
So when we returned to the Fort Bragg area where we’d been living, we knew that we wanted to keep going, but we realized we had a storage shed full of stuff and a car tying us down. Over the course of one week, we sold, gifted, and donated half of our possessions before moving the last of our things to a single shelf in our family’s house in San Francisco.
Then we posted our car on craigslist and sold it in a matter of hours. It was surreal to be so free of stuff. But it was also a little bit terrifying to have no home, no car, and only a few important possessions. Most of what was left was bikes and camping gear. But as long as you have a bike, you aren’t homeless, you’re on a bike tour!
Before we could set off again, we had lots of things to fix about our setup. First off, after having spent a lot more physical energy riding the non-electrified tandem down from Coos Bay, we knew we wanted to go back to electric bikes. We also had decided that we wanted to try riding separate ebikes instead of taking the tandem with the trailer. We did this for a number of reasons. First, the one big problem with the tandem is the inability to divide and conquer while doing chores or exploring an area. Second, since it wasn’t possible to get enough gear into our panniers on the tandem, we ended up towing the trailer which made riding on narrow sections of road very annoying. Third, if we wanted to bus or train anywhere, it is easy to do with regular sized bikes but almost impossible with a tandem, unless you have one that breaks into multiple pieces. Fourth, and most importantly, there is a legal limit on the amount of power a single ebike can put out, which meant that our tandem was carrying both of us and all of our stuff using the power that’s intended for only a single person. By splitting up onto two bikes, we’d be able to get twice as much power to carry each of us.
It might be surprising to most people, but getting time to ourselves was actually the worst thing about splitting up. We loved riding tandem because we could talk to each other the whole time, and splitting up made the rides much more lonely.
Will already had a bike that would work for touring, but Claire’s bike was a little too lightweight to hold up to the load. To build a custom bike for Claire we worked at the Bike Kitchen in San Francisco’s Mission District. The Bike Kitchen is an amazing resource, full of secondhand parts and expert volunteers to help you build a bicycle from scratch for just $80 without using anything new. We also managed to find a used ebike motor and controller at the Bike Kitchen’s garage sale, which we used to electrify Claire’s bike.
We were deeply fortunate to be able to stay with our friends and family in San Francisco, while we prepared for the next segment of our journey down the California coast. Claire’s sister and brother-in-law, Holly and Mike, made us feel so much at home and were so helpful, letting us turn their basement into a bike workshop. Our friend Sam also saved us when our motor controller broke a few days before we were set to leave. None of this would have been possible without our friends and family. We know how fortunate we are, and we want to share that fortune with others to help them accomplish their own adventures like this someday.
Central and Southern California
The Big Sur Coastline
On Oct 27 we departed San Francisco along hwy 1 after a ride through Golden Gate Park. There is a decent shoulder most of the way, just a couple of short sections without shoulder immediately south of the park. We found cars to be decent, they slow down or give you space, and traffic is not bad, as it seems Highway 1 is mostly a scenic route that close to the city. Making it to camp at Half Moon bay the first night is a fairly easy ride through the peninsula’s iconic suburbs. The excellent thing is that being so close to the city, the park is almost always quite full, but the hiker/biker is normally available. However, this hiker/biker only allows one night of camping before you have to move on—something we came to learn would be common in the State Parks closest to larger metropolitan areas.
The next day we rode 60 miles continuing through Santa Cruz to New Brighton State Beach, another camp that only allows a single night stay. We doubled back into Santa Cruz the next morning for a few bike tweaks to work out some kinks we discovered on our ride down the peninsula. The Bike Church in Santa Cruz is a totally awesome worker co-op community bike shop. It felt like it had a similar vibe as the Bike Kitchen in SF, but there was the added bonus that the Bike Church is also collocated in the radical Santa Cruz Hub for Sustainable Living, a community space housing a number of worker co-ops and nonprofits. One of the co-ops is Hard Core Compost, a bike-powered compost pickup service that helped inspire Full Cycle compost in Arcata, who we got to interview as they were starting their business.
During this portion of our ride, we had learned that there was a rock slide on Highway 1 along the Big Sur portion, which meant the road would be closed for a bit. We didn’t want to get down there and then have to wait for the road to clear, so we decided to take it slow by staying at each of the campgrounds on the way for as long as we could. We headed down to Sunset State Beach and luckily along the way met another cyclist, Geoff, who told us about Manresa Uplands State Beach and Campground, a less-advertised spot that lets you stay for 2 days (but it closes on 11-1). We relaxed there for 2 days, the beach was beautiful and we even saw some porpoises.
On 11-1, we continued just 2 miles down the road to Sunset State Beach to wait out the rain. Will tried making a quick trip into the nearest town to pick up some groceries before a rainstorm hit, but while riding a very rough road, the motor controller suddenly started jamming. We knew from previous experience that the motor controller probably had a loose connection inside and needed to be soldered. So we got an emergency Warmshowers host in Watsonville for the next day to do the repairs. It is a quaint town and a local reporter saw us sitting out with our solar panels and did a little article on us!
When we arrived at our Warmshowers hosts place that night we realized that it was the house of famed bicycle designer, Craig Calfee who made the first carbon fiber bike frame, which is now state of the art, and invented the bamboo bike. We were a little star struck but played it cool.
The next morning we left early in the fog to make it 61 miles to Pfeiffer Big Sur state park campground. The ride along Big Sur is stunning, majestic sweeping views of the ocean and mountains, possibly the most beautiful section of coast. There are many sections with no shoulder, but the cars are so considerate that it never felt unsafe. We spent 1 day at the state park campground and then hoped to park our bikes and hike into the Sykes River hot springs (10 mile hike) for a couple days. We asked around to see if there was somewhere safe to lock the bikes and a couple panniers since previously camp hosts in Oregon had let us leave our stuff with them. We talked to 3 people and it was “no”s all around, but Will finally convinced them to let us pay for another day of hiker/biker site to lock our bikes up there (note that this counts as a day of camping and there is a 2 day limit). This costs the same as parking a car at the trailhead, even though our bikes take up a fraction of the space. It would be amazing if just 1 parking spot could be turned into a bike rack with a couple bear box style lockers to lock a few valuables while hiking. We resolved to advocate for this in the future.
But for now we set off to hike the pine ridge trail for 10 miles with 2500ft of elevation gain to reach the Sykes hot springs. The hike goes inland from the coast along a ridge in the Ventana wilderness. It passes 3 trail camps before Sykes so you don’t have to do it all in 1 day. We were very lucky to be here, the area had been closed for 5 years due to fire damage and part of the trail getting washed out. Once you reach the Sykes camp, there are campsites up and down river and the springs are .5 miles down river on the left side, with a few river crossings. There are half a dozen small round pools tucked into the rocky outcroppings above the river that are nice and warm!
We camped there and then headed back out the next day, with one more day of camp at the state park to rest our legs. At camp we met a fellow cyclist, Stuart, who had a book with all the hiker/biker campgrounds!
The next day we headed to one from Stuart’s book, Kirk Creek campground, and we are happy we did! It was about 30 miles, with resupply at Big Sur Deli. Kirk Creek is right on the ocean with views of the mountains and amazing stars at night. It is stunning. The campground has no water, but you can supply from Kirk Creek itself if you bring a filter or they sell it for $5 a gallon. This section along highway 1 is also stunning. Steep mountain sides dropping into the ocean with tall bridges and even a short tunnel built of rock right into the side of the mountain, which looked like some sort of gate out of The Lord of the Rings. The ocean was such a deep blue, the sky so clear and the mountains so green, it looked like paradise. When you stop at the pullout to look back you can’t imagine what you just came over, such a tiny road carved into the mountain side.
The next day we planned to bike a bit and then do a 2 mile hike into a campground from Salmon Creek Falls trailhead. The only resupply point is the Gorda general store, which is pretty expensive with limited food. The parking lot for Salmon Creek is small and exposed so a good place to leave bikes is by the Buckeye Trailhead, just 100 yards up the road. We also took a quick jaunt up part of this trail for the views—you get high up along the mountainside and can see the whole coast and ocean stretch out before you. We saw one of the most amazing sunsets from the Salmon Creek Falls trail.
The next day we had the last leg of the Big Sur coast to ride, the dreaded Ragged Point. It was super windy with lots of switchbacks, which were a bit terrifying with the wind. Luckily there was almost no traffic and I rode in the left lane a bit to be as far away from the edge as possible. Once we got past Ragged Point it was all downhill and opened into nice flat land. There is an elephant seal viewpoint here, and it is definitely worth the stop, the beach was jam packed with sunbathing seals. It looked so relaxing.
Overall, the Big Sur section is the most scenic part of the whole coast and felt the safest for cycling. There was very little traffic and all the cars all shared the road, it felt like they actually cared about you and wanted to make sure you didn’t die. Very heartwarming. I don’t know how much this relates to it being the off season or not, could be due to them being terrified about driving these narrow, winding roads, but it would be a much more nerve wracking ride with lots of traffic.
Unfortunately south of Big Sur, the camping is not ideal. It seems that most of the parks in this area, like North Beach and Lompoc, had closed their hiker/biker sites. The word we heard from other cycle tourer was that the locals didn’t like their parks attracting “transients”—the word itself makes my blood boil. What exactly is any person at a campground other than a transient? In general, California’s attitude of “ignorance is bliss” toward homelessness might be one of the most appalling aberrations from human decency that I’ve seen in the state.
The only remaining place for a hiker/biker is a county campground in Oceana called Coastal Dunes RV Park. It is right on the highway and by train tracks and is $13 per person, but it has electric, free showers and laundry on site.
On the trip between Morro Bay and Oceana Claire got not only her first flat of the trip, but two giant punctures in the same day! For the first, she was pedaling away in the rain when she hit a 2 inch screw. The patch didn’t hold and turns out the screw went in one side of the tube and out the other so she changed the tube. We had made up time but were still 3 miles away from our intended Warmshowers camp when a 3 inch nail gouged her tire. The puncture in the tire itself was so large that even after patching, the tube extruded out of the tire and popped again!
Luckily we were a 10 min walk from the Costal Dunes RV park and campground so we changed plans and went there. There was no bike shop in town, but there was an Ace Hardware in town that had one more tube and tire.
We had to leave as early as possible the next morning because we had to make it 73 miles before sundown around 5pm. We also needed 3 days of food. Will did the errands while I packed and repaired my tire, and luckily we made it out by 9:30.
The ride from here to Refugio State Beach is long but nice, huge shoulders and off of hwy 1 for a bit. It goes inland for a bit to skirt the airforce base and passes through lots of agricultural land, fields and fields of cabbages, kale, and broccoli filling the whole valley. And hoop houses covering acres and acres. It’s important to see for ourselves where our food actually comes from. All the farm workers were out in the fields, it looked very hot.
We do recommend Little Pete’s fresh farm-picked strawberry stand along hwy 1 outside of Orcutt. They pick them daily when they are ripe, not early like needs to be done when they are shipped to stores. They tasted like candy and perked us right up for the next 20 miles. This section was now rolling green hills of pasture with sparse trees and bushes and a few black cows grazing here and there, all with a backdrop of some taller peaks. It was quite empty, no towns or gas stations or houses at all, and was quite hot and dry.
Finally, just before coming back to the ocean, we hopped back onto 101 which out-of-nowhere goes through a mini canyon with sheer rock walls for a couple miles. The wind howled as we rode through that canyon until all-of-the-sudden we popped back out on the coast. And it’s a totally different coast. With big flat beaches and palm trees and warm breezes, we were now clearly in southern California
The Southern California vibes
We camped at Refugio state Beach, which just struck us as the quintessential SoCal beach setting. The hiker/biker site here has the best view in the house, right on the sandy beach with views of the islands.
We stayed in Refugio two days for a rest day on the beach after the 72 miler the day before. Then we just rode 2 miles to El Capitan state park, since we had heard so much about it. You can take hwy 1, but a local told us that there is a bike path from Refugio that ends on the beach and if we ride the beach for a mile there is a ramp up to El Capitan state park. We figured why not!
It was so fun to ride along the sand, right next to the waves and chasing sea gulls. El capitan is also right on the ocean but raised on a bluff, with amazing views and sunset. Plus the hiker/biker is off on its own with a staircase down to what feels like your own private beach.
This section of coastline felt like a truly perfect section for sustainable cycle touring, with multiple camps all within a few hours’ ride from Santa Barbara, a major city with a cooperative grocery and community bike works. We met a few really interesting cycle tourers who had come for local trips from LA and San Diego, taking a combination of public transit and bicycle. Inspired by their stories, we took the opportunity to write a piece explaining about the sustainability of solar ebike touring, and why we think that should be the first option people think of when wanting to travel.
From El Capitan State Beach it’s 20 miles to Santa Barbara. You have to be on 1 for a bit but then you can take side streets on the outskirts of the metropolitan area. We took a detour into Isla Vista to get some supplies at the Isla Vista Food Co-op for our time in the city. There is a bike path from UCSB onward. Santa Barbara had lots of bike paths and fun beaches with public restrooms. We stayed with some of our friends, Tom and Rachael, who were kind enough to let us stay in their amazing rental near downtown Santa Barbara and showed us a great time around town!
On our way out of Santa Barbara, we interviewed the Regenerative Landscaping Co-op, a worker co-op landscaping firm dedicated to regenerative practices in their usage of water and carbon sequestration. It was very inspiring. I hope these ideas of water management spread far and fast. And yet again we learned more things about rainwater basin creation and about the usefulness of converting to the cooperative model from a traditional sole-proprietorship.
After the interview, we did a quick 12 miles to Carpinteria State Park, all of which is off of hwy 1. The next day, we did 50 miles to Leo Carillo State Beach. Some of this is along 1 and some on frontage roads, but not bad. The best part was when a separated 2-way bike path appeared along the highway. Sycamore canyon is another option along this stretch. Leo Carillo hiker/biker is in a secluded wooded/sunny area. We managed to eek out 3 days because you can self register in the morning before the ranger station opens and the hiker/biker is so hidden that no one can see if you’re back there. It also has a camp store with basic foods (think gas station). Some cool sea caves and tide pools are along the beach there.
The next day we passed through Malibu on the way to LA. It was honestly a bit sad to end a bike trip in LA as this was by far the worst cycling experience that we’d had in California. This was the first time we were honked at since entering CA back in October. On this stretch of 101, somehow the shoulder is used as parking so you basically have to take the lane, and, as we all know, the cars do not like to share.
LA lived up to its bad biking reputation. Navigating the city by bike is tough, and the lack of bike lanes in such a major city is astonishing. That said, there are two nice stretches along the beach and following the Ballona Creek.
@trailcooperative end of the 2021 trip for the trail coop. last stop #losangeles a #cycling #dystopia #bikepacking #cyberpunk #fuckcars #bikelanes ♬ Purpose - Official Sound Studio
But after a pretty unsettling ride near downtown, we arrived at Union Station to load up on the train. It’s easy to take a bike on Amtrak. You can sometimes roll it on yourself, or trainside roll it to an operator, but there were no reservations for bikes left so we boxed ours. You buy the box at the ticket counter, they bring it down. You don’t even take the wheels off, just the pedals and twist the handlebars.
We loaded onto the train and set off. It was wild recognizing that such a major portion of our trip was over. It settled in as the train silently blasted through the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts.
We’d visit family over the holidays and then get restarted back in Tucson, AZ.
2022 Begins: Tucson
After spending the holidays with family, we restarted our adventure in Tucson. Around Tucson we stayed with Claire’s dad for the month of January to take a different approach to traveling. Instead of a through-tour, we traveled in a number of smaller trips around the area. We also got to spend more time in the area so we were able to do more volunteering.
We also took this time to fix Claire’s bicycle setup once more to give her pedal assist so she didn’t have to hold down the throttle to make her bike go. In hindsight, we’d recommend no one ever try to ebike tour without pedal-assist as holding down the throttle with your thumb for multiple days is a quick recipe for carpal-tunnel syndrome.
Tucson to Albuquerque