Wednesday, November 10, 2010

San Diego - The southern most 72 miles of the Pacific Coast route

Day 1: San Diego - Oceanside - San Diego
  Distance: 91.7 miles
  Total Ascent: 13,412

Bike route 757650 on Bikemap 

I got my cycling adventure in but I guess I had to many expectation.  First off all I couldn't get a train ride up to Oceanside and did the route in the north direction.  The scenery was urban all the, and the route was mostly on the busy pacific coast highway, and the roads are rough as hell.  I guess Iowa has really spoiled me with very smooth rural highways with near to no traffic and plenty of rural scenery and fresh air.

The plan was to take the 7am Amtrak to Oceanside since the Coaster train doesn't run on Sundays.  But that was nixed by a bomb thread that Amtrak received which resulted in the train to be canceled.  The next train wouldn't have gotten me to Oceanside until 10am.and I really didn't want to start riding that late.  The other option was to ride up to Oceanside and take the train back.  That was what the ticketing agent was also suggesting.  Bad idea.

For all side excursion away from the busy pacific coast highway you need to cross it. Also I found it much harder to the Pacific Coast bike route.  For navigation I used my GPS with the data files from Adventure Cycling Association, the San Diego bicycle map and signage.  However, the signage "Bike Route" means any old street with a designated shoulder as a bike lane.  The map wasn't much more of a help as it wasn't detailed and convenient enough to use constantly with all the turns when not following the main highway.

The designated bike lanes here are also a joke.  When you need them the most they simply disappear.  Intersections don't accommodate bicycles at all or they move the bike line all the way to the right so that you get directed toward the right turn of the street while most likely you need to turn left and have to cross three or four lanes by that time (including turning lanes).  As mentioned the whole coastal region from San Diego up to Oceanside (and possibly beyond) is build up so that you continuously ride in a town with all the stop signs and traffic light (which equates to lot of stop and go), high amount of traffic and cars parked on the sides that might swing their doors open in front of you at any time (luckily this did not happen).

A glimpse of the ocean

Sunday morning is also the local road bike.  Everybody that owned a road bike did their training rides.  And they ride quite inconsiderate, passing without announcement very closely by you and cutting right in front you.  They may be used from riding with their buddies to draft and weave in and out very closely.  But obviously I'm not your road racing training dude, especially with a huge back pack on my back and no visible Lycra.  I do abrupt swerves for cracks and bumps in the pavement of which there were plenty.  I also saw an amazing amount of bikers stranded fixing a flat.

At noon I got to Ocean side and started pondering about what to do next.  It was to early in the day to go back and I didn't think the scenery to the north would change much.  Being curious enough how the ride southward is I decided to ride back.  I enjoyed the ride back a bit more.  It was much easier to navigate and probably I no longer had unrealistic expectations.  Of course the best was that I decided to walk along the Torry Pines State Beach.

Sandstone cliff


The bird wasn't scared by the kids playing right next to it

The beach featured some amazing sandstone cliffs and the nature scenery that I was missing all along the ride.  I think you can only pass the beach during low tide and you have to wade through water and climb over rocks.  If you have fat tires you can even cycle on the hard wet sand.

At the rocky part of the beach

I arrived in San Diego after about 11 hours on the road and in the dark. In retrospect it was fully worth it even if I'm a bit whiny.

Day 2: San Diego - Border
  Distance: 27.2 miles
  Total Ascent: 13,411

Bike route 757665 on Bikemap 

One of my downfall is I have a hard time to stop sometimes. :) Since a Coronado visit is in the itinerary the next logical step is to do the rest of the pacific coast route and take a picture at the Mexican boarder crossing.  In the early morning I took the commuter ferry over to the island while it started to sprinkle.  When we docked it rained and I was eager to find a place to eat breakfast.  Panera Bread on Orange Ave. came to the rescue while I waited out the rain.  I had a rain coat but the backpack and my shorts were not rainproofed.

The Midway aircraft carrier museum I visited two days earlier

A nice long breakfast was all that was needed to wait for the rain to stop and with the sun I was pretty soon dry again.  My route followed the ACA GPS route again along the Silver Strand to the main land and then on to the Border Field State Park at the Mexican border.  The ride was great as it took me finally out or urban areas into urban and then the state park.  The state park was quite abandoned which isn't unusual for California.  All state parks here seem to have extremely reduced service if any at all.

Beach on Coronado

Beach on Coronado

I was thinking that a bike touring route would have taken me to a border crossing in case someone wanted to extend the tour into Mexico or even further.  But this wasn't the case.  The route followed a state park road toward the beach right at the border.  At one point the road was flooded and next to it was a little sign warned that the water was toxic.  I heeded the warning and didn't think about wading through it or tried to go around through the mud.  But parallel to the road was a nice asphalt road besides the border fence. The short gravel path leading to it just had the common sign stating no motorized vehicles beyond this point.  So I continued on that road instead.  After going up a steep hill I stopped and took a couple of pictures of the scenery and continued on.

Road across Tijuana river valley

Flooded road at Border Field State Park

San Diego as seen from the border

Border fence

Two border trucks approached me from the front and nicely informed me that the road was only for the border patrols. I excused myself and mentioned about the lack of signage.  Apparently there was some sign (which I didn't see on the way back either) and I apparently wasn't the first one to do so.  As I turned around I saw another truck right behind me and an four wheeler approaching.  I hope I didn't cause to much havoc but I'm still surprised that at the base of the Mount Rushmore National Monument has sign on every tree informing it is prohibited to climb the mountain while the border seems to be quite lacking.

Beach with Mexico in background

Swampy area of the Tijuana estuary

The border guard was quite nice and pointed out a gravel road that I could take to the beach which I did as my final point of the trip before returning to the trolley line and taking it back to town.  Border Field State Park is certainly on my list of recommended places to visit.  Just stay clear from the fence.

Update:  A special feature of Border Field is the Border Monument and Friendship Circle at the end of the flooded road.  There you can go directly to the border fence and talk across the border.  This would have been really cool to visit.  Had I known that I would have walked along the beach to the monument. More information can be found at

The bike I rented was a Jamis Ventura. The hybrid bikes just don't feel that great to me. The position on them is to odd for me and I wouldn't be able to do longer rides. The Ventura was a fine bike but it really needed fatter tires for the California road. Of course racks and fenders are the other things that would have been nice. The Bike Revolution helped adjusted the bike as I desired it and was quite helpful getting me setup properly.

Friday, November 5, 2010

More Dreams

San Diego
For work I'll be going to San Diego and I added a couple of personal days to it.  My thought is to sight see, visit aircraft carrier and possibly rent a bike and do a bike ride.  An option is to ride around the San Diego bay which is about 25 miles.  It looks like the east side goes through a lot of industrial areas though.  With Torrey Pines State Park and other interesting places being up north I though of doing the Pacific coastal tour from Oceanside back to San Diego.  It's about 45 miles one way and I could take the Coaster train (weekdays only) or Amtrak up to Oceanside with the bike.  Of course everything is contingent on what kind of bike I can rent.

Accross Iowa
Having completed the bike ride from Omaha to Ames the next natural step is to extend the ride across Iowa.  I have the following route in mind with overnight stops around Marshalltown (or a bit further west) and northern Iowa City.

Family Tours
Another thing I would like to do is to tour with the family.  As a trail run we might ride across town to a county hike-in camp site where we'd stay for the night.  It's about 10 miles and Oskar (7 years) should be able to do it on his own bike while Heidi (4 years) rides on the trail-a-bike.

The next step is a two day ride along the Raccoon River Valley Trail from Jefferson to Waukee.  We'd stay overnight at the Lenon Mill Park campground in Panora.  The trail is separated from the traffic so we would not have to worry about Oskar riding on his bike.

The ultimate family tour would then follow with a week long trip on the Kate Trail in Missouri.  Hopefully that will be next summer.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lessons Learned

I really need to write a little follow up about the Omaha to Ames bike ride.  Especially in regards to my packing list.  First the pannier weights:

Front left:    8 lbs
Front right:   7 lbs
Rear left:    14 lbs
Rear right:   18 lbs
Total weight: 47 lbs

I forgot an important thing, the can opener.  Luckily I threw in a pliers-multi-tool that had a can opener on it.  I also took several packets of oats with Nido whole milk powder but I was to lazy in the mornings to heat up water for a warm breakfast.  Instead the tortillas with Nutella worked out great for breakfast.  Overall I had to much sweet snacks along.  I realized I craved none sweet stuff or maybe some more salty stuff.

On this trip I only ate out once.  It was for lunch on the second day in Steward at Subway.  On one side I want to eat our more on future trips but then I really didn't had many chances to do so on this trip, especially on my first day.  I enjoy the more quiet roads and these don't go through to many larger towns.

Another thing I didn't use was the bike lock.  It's way better to leave the bike in sight and doing so you don't need one.  I didn't use the hand sanitizer either but wished I had soap with me.  I like soap more.

On other news.  Wify and I just got new touring bikes but haven't accessorized them totally.  We want to do a longer ride just to make sure we really like these bikes, although I'm not sure if we could exchange them.  Deciding for a bike was a nightmare, at least for me.  We had the opportunity to ride the Treck 520 and Surly Long Haul Trucker in various sizes.  It didn't help me to much since I don't know what a proper fit feels like. She got the Trek 520 and I got the Surly Long Haul Trucker.  However, I'm still not sure if I made the right choice.  Who knows maybe I never will.  In any case I'll have to do a writeup about the bikes sometime.

I'm also thinking about doing the other side of Iowa, an Ames - Davenport tour.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Omaha to Ames Bike Tour

Yes, I did it. I biked with my old mountain bike from Bellevue (Omaha) Nebraska to Ames Iowa. That's 198 miles in two days. The first day I biked 75 miles to Atlantic Iowa where I tented behind a fire station. On the second day a shower, bed, and a full day of relaxation and recuperation was to tempting not to go for it so I rode the full 123 miles. Tail wind of parts of the way helped a little too. Though the thunderstorm cell later that day that traveled with me did not.

  Distance:  76.61 miles (123.29 km)
  Max Speed: 31.8 mph (51.2 km/h)
  Average Speed:  11.1 mph (17.9 km/h)

  Distance: 123.28 miles (198.40 km)
  Max Speed: 36.7 mph (59.1 km/h)
  Average Speed: 12.0 mph (19.3 km/h)

The Departure
Saturday morning was quite chilly even in the fifth-wheeler of my parents-in-law at which we stayed. So I was reluctant to get up and going.  At about quarter to nine I took off after having had a simple breakfast, loading the bicycle and saying goodbye to my family.
Grandparent's Camper

I took a new toy along for the first time.  REI had a sale on the Garmin Oregon 450 GPS unit.  Since this version doesn't came with maps I installed a freely available 4000MB Routable US map and created routes and tracks for my trip.  I started off in the routing mode which worked very well getting me out of Bellevue and into Iowa.  In route mode the GPS will announce turns with a single and later a double beep and show a nice large arrow on the map where you have to turn.
Bellevue Toll Bidge
Iowa Welcome Sign
However as soon as I crossed the Bellevue Toll Bidge the GPS wanted me to turn onto a gravel road.  After ignoring it's suggestion it recalculated a route that would take me onto the interstate.  Later that day when I tried the routing mode again it suggested a level B road.  Level B roads are no maintenance roads, they don't even have gravel and are pure mud.  So unless you are into the Trans-Iowa race these roads are not for cycling.

What worked better was the routing by tracks.  No calculations are done by the GPS, instead it just displays the track that you will follow.  While it does show the remaining mileage, it does not announce turns or show the turning directions.  The biggest drawbacks to tracks is that you have to create them beforehand on a computer, so on the fly route adjustments are not possible.

And of course use the Iowa Bicycle Map to plan your route.  Neither the GPS maps nor Google Maps knows the difference of paved and gravel roads.  The Iowa Bicycle Map even indicates the amount of traffic each road has.  My rule of thumb is to stay away from the red roads.  All others are fine.

The Bluffs, Rolling Hills and Country Side
Bellevue Toll Bridge that crosses the Mississippi river cost 50 cents per bike but it certainly beats having to travel north through Omaha to get to another bridge.  After riding through the river valley the hilly part of my tour starts with the area known as the bluffs.  Then the route continued on east with rolling hills though past fields and occasional farmsteads.  It wasn't until after about 50 miles where I could finally get an ice cream cone at a gas station. Even though it was quite deserted and has rolling hills I really enjoyed this part of the ride.  The bluffs are gorgeous and the rolling empty country side is quite nice as well.
County Highway 12 from the direction I came
County Highway 12 in the direction I went
My GPS map had a weird sense of humor by displaying grave yards on the map.  It apparently doesn't know that ice cream is my motivator and not death in the heat of a lonely county road.  Even the vultures didn't scare me.
Turkey Vulture
A neat tree house with rope bridge.
Griswold, the first town that had ice cream.
Griswold Fire Station
Griswold Hotel (at one time or another)

The Overnight
One of the biggest questions of touring newbie is "where am I going to sleep".  Yes, I had the though, too.  As you can see on my original route plan I had camping grounds selected.  I actually stopped at the Cold Springs State Park.  The campground is up a very steep drive.  Up there is one bath house. I'm not sure if it had running water.  It was still to early for me to break camp and I wanted to try to survive without an official camping ground.  So I went on toward Atlantic.  People that have been on bicycle tours for a while seem not to worry as much about their overnight place.  From forums and people I talked to they find a place through various ways.  A spot that looks nice for a tent, asking locals, police or fire stations.  The first thing I saw at Atlantic was the fire station, so I stopped there, introduced myself and my travel adventure, and asked if there was a place I could stay overnight with my small tent.  I got an invitation to set camp in their back yard.  They had a nice big backyard and I would setup my tend behind one of the evergreens and out of sight.
Downtown Atlantic

First though I continued into town to look around and cook dinner at the city park.  There a group of teenagers gathered and hanged out.  For small talk I asked them about the coolest part of Atlantic.  "Wal-Mart" was the exciting answer.  In the night at around ten something I was awoken by cooing racoon that was circling my tent.  After trying to scare it away and once it finally left I got the news that my brother-in-law's daughter was born.  In the morning I got woken by loud breathing noises or weird calls from a group of white tail deer at the lower end of the lawn.  At first I was worried that the raccoon was back.
War Memorial in Atlantic City Park

The Tripple A and C (skipping B)
The next day I rode from Atlantic through Anita and Adair to Casey.  Yes, that's the solution of the twitter riddle.  Between Anita and Adair I got to see the wind power farm up close and I stopped at the site where Jesse James robbed a train.
Wind Power Generator

The wind power generators are quite noisy.

Site of Jesse James' Train Robbery
Site of Jesse James' Train Robbery

In Adair I meet a boy on his bike that asked me if I was riding RAGBAI.  I told him I'd be a little late for that.  Last time RAGBRAI went through Adair was in 2001 and I actually rode the whole ride.  It's exactly the same route as this trip from Atlantic to Casey but I must say the towns are totally different.  On RAGBRAI with 10,000 cyclist going through these towns they are alive and flourishing but reality is that they are not that much of a gem usually.  The boy probably wasn't even born at the time RAGBRAI came through his town.  Maybe the legend stays around.  He though that I had some expensive bike to tour but I tried to explain that's just a regular mountain bike.  Of course I agreed that his bike, a single speed, wouldn't be suitable and suggested that more gears are in order to do touring.  "Beers?" he asked. No, I said gears!  Is my English that bad or is beer already on the minds or eight year old boys?
Adair Downtown
Adair Downtown
Adair Downtown
Casey isn't much of a happening place either.  The irony of the town is that the only flourishing business is the Kum & Go gas station.  Shouldn't it be a Casey's gas station?
Kum & Go Gas Station in Casey
The road I followed was called the White Pole Road which had the bottom of the electrical poles painted white.  I was wondering if it was just something cute or if it had a historical meaning behind it.  It indeed does and is somewhat interesting.  You can read about it on the White Pole Road website.
Menlo on the White Pole Road

The North Bearing
I stopped in Casey to eat my first and only purchased meal on this trip, a Subway sandwich (no mayo please they put way to much on it).  Then I finally could harvest the south wind.  Especially on the Racoon River Valley Trail which was build on an old railroad embankment I flew at speeds of 16/17 mph constantly.  The paved trail isn't as smooth as a road and the worst is that the gravel road crossings aren't paved at all.  One gravel road was even recently graded and so the crossing had small piles of loose gravel that one has to cross.  Not the safest thing and certainly not nice with a road bike.
Racoon River Valley Trail

The Lightening Rod
I already knew at the night before that I would try to go a bit further than Panora. Just somewhat before four in the afternoon and only having forty miles left didn't make it seem to impossible to make it home to a nice shower and bed.  I still had plenty of strength and endurance left to beat my furthest distance I've ever ridden on a bike and go for 123 miles in one day.  I already knew I would hit darkness before I arrive but I had three rear lights and two head lights and plenty of spare batteries with me.  Also I knew the last part fairly well and the road is straight, flat and with little traffic.  So that was not an issue.

What turned out to be an issue is a small thunderstorm cell that developed over me and traveled about the same speed and direction as I did.  Rain hasn't started, only an occasional drizzle but cloud-to-cloud lightning and cloud-to-ground lightning came closer.  There was no chance to out run it and I got worried.  Finally I pulled in by a car at a abandoned farmstead gate and asked if I could stand under the barn until the storm passed over.  She didn't had a key for the gate either so I covered the panniers with their rain cover, climbed over the gate and stood under the barn.  She and her daughter were there to take care of their old and sick horse.  She apparently tried to get the vet out there and had some other help arrive there.  I couldn't help so I just keep myself under the barn as pretty soon it came down poring along with thunder and lightning. After it passed I slowly got ready to ride again and rode really slow as not to catch up to the thunderstorm.  At times I was worried that more would develop over me again but I was lucky.
Rippley Elevator
The Dog
Sooner or later a dog encounter would have to happen. I was surprised that I only had one encounter. It was in Boone country on E57 right after crossing the Des Moines river and going up hill. To the right of the road (south side) there is a single house a bit higher up then the road itself. From there a huge brown dog came down full speed with a mean bark and locking horrible aggressive. There was no chance of outrunning the dog as I was working my way slowly up the hill. I removed the safety of my weapon and prepared for the confrontation. Yes, as a bicyclist you should always have a full water bottle in reach not only for regular hydration but also to spray dogs that love to chase bikes. This time there would not be a chase. With the hill and the size of dog it didn't make any sense to stay on the bike. So as soon as he started crossing the ditch I dismounted. As the bike stopped and I touched the ground the dog did a 180 degree turn and ran up the ditch to stand on the top and bark at me. It was funny to see the dog getting suddenly that afraid of me and retreat all the sudden from a full out charge. So I started walking up the hill a bit and then mounted the bike again and continued climbing the hill while the dog barked and watched me nicely from a distance. Yes the moral of this story is to stay calm, get off the bike, keep the bike between you and the dog, and have a full water bottle ready. BTW, some people think pepper sprays are useful to carry. I disagree. In the heat of the moment if I had used the pepper spray I would certainly have not thought about the south wind that would have blown everything straight into my face instead of the dog.

The Arrival
As mentioned earlier I ended up riding in the dark but it was quite nice to ride in the dark.  With the GPS I could easily check where I am, how much further I had and what's coming up thanks to it back light.  I made it back at about 9:30pm.  Of course I surprised my wife that I arrived a day early and had to reclaim my spot on the bed from my son.

Now what's the next crazy adventure that I'll be planning?

Friday, September 3, 2010


Yeah, I'm going hi-tech here and will be twittering on my tour. Of course I must remember doing so, I must want to do it and most of all have phone reception with my pre-paid T-Mobile phone. At Slater I needed to climb playground equipment and hold the phone high to be able to send the message. :( In any case, it's mainly a fun thing to do and somehow I need to use up some of the minutes on that phone.

Twitter allows me to send SMS (short text messages) and post it that way. I guess blogger does, too. But this way the short live feed is separate from the nice long trip reports and other musings.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Well, this weekend might be it

The star constellations look right for the Omaha to Ames bike ride. I redid my route a little and got rid of some hills. However there is no way to avoid the huge ascent (and decent) right at the get-go.

For overnights I have picked some camp ground, however this isn't set in stone.  So the days will be about the bike ride I did yesterday minus the trailer and plus four panniers.  So I'm not sure if it will be any easier to ride.  I'm nearly done packing and the packing list right now is:

Front Left Pannier:

  • toiletries:
    • sunscreen
    • bug spray
    • toilet paper
    • bike lock
    • toothpaste
    • toothbrush
    • hand sanitizer
    • lib balm
    • comb
  • miscellaneous:
    • extra tent string
    • zip ties
    • pliers
    • lighter
    • band-aids
    • chewing gum
  • outside pocket:
    • photo camera
    • phone (backup)

Front Right Pannier:
  • snacks:
    • beef jerky
    • trail mix (two bags)
    • granola bars (22 pieces)
    • butter kekse
    • dyed fruit
  • outside pocket:
    • led front light
    • led rear light (two)
    • led head light
    • batteries (8 AA & 8 AAA for lights and GPS)
Rear Left Pannier:
  • housing:
  • clothing:
    • socks (three)
    • underwear (two)
    • shorts
    • t-shirt
    • biking shorts
    • biking shirt
    • thin set of long underwear (top and bottom) for sleeping
    • hat
  • outside pocket:
    • Iowa bicycle map
  • lid pocket:
    • rain covers for all panniers
Rear Right Bag:
  • Kitchen:
    • 4 full water bottles
    • MSR pocket rocket stove
    • IsoPro (8oz)
    • cheap alu-cook set
    • spoon-fork combo
    • plastic knives (two)
    • tortillas
    • summer sausage
    • roast beef (can)
    • seasoned rice
    • nutella
    • Mountain House beef stroganoff with noodles
    • paper towels
  • front pocket:
    • water bladder (empty)
    • pen & paper
  • lid pocket:
    • rain pants
    • rain coat
Small Under Saddle Bag:
  • Battery for legacy wired bike lights
  • spare tube
  • bike tools
  • tire patch kit
Still to pack:
  • long sleeve shirt (with insect repellent)
  • long pants (with insect repellent)
  • apples
Don't forget
  • watch
  • gps
  • wallet
  • bike lock key
  • phone (primary)
  • sun glasses (I need new ones)
  • biking shorts, biking shirt, sock and shoes that I will wear
  • good night sleep
  • early start

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I wasn't planning on 65 miles

Heidi's daycare is closed and I thought of doing a small bike ride to get used for the tour. Things got a bit stressed getting Oskar to school since both sets of car seats were in mom's car. So I packed a few things and we rode on our bike to Oskar's school just in time. Heidi and I continued our ride to Ankeny to have some lunch and back. Since R38 is still closed due to construction we took US 69. I quickly remember why I loath to ride there. The traffic is just horrible. So we back tracked though Kelly to R38 and on to Slater where we stopped for ice cream and a playground break. Like last weekend we took the High Trestle trail to Ankeny, had lunch and returned the same way. Of course this time we took the shorter and nicer detour on X Avenue. Surprisingly I feel fine the day after.

Distance: 65 miles
Max Speed: 27.4 mph
Average Speed: 11.8 mph

Slater has a nice little grocery that's open 7 days a week with pretty long hours.  Quite nice and of course we have to stop for ice cream ...
... and have some fun at the park.
Between Slater and Ankeny, in the middle of nowhere, is this nice little rest stop with porta-potty and drinking fountain.  Pretty neat.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Dream

OK, so I have this idea to do a bike ride from Omaha to Ames. The ride would start at my in-laws and end at home. The convenience would be that I could hitch a ride to there from my wife and kids while they visit the grandparents. It would be 180 miles of Iowa county highways in 3 days. I have already a route in mind but still need to plot it. Of course it will be a self supported tour with the occasional stops at gas station for water and ice cream.

This will be a two fold adventure, as I haven't done an overnight solo cycling tour and I haven't been riding my bike much this. Spring and summer was occupied by lots of stuff including building a small shed (12 x 20 foot) in the back yard. The shed is somewhat of a priority since I really want to get a better bike than the GT Outpost mountain bike I have. Before I get the new bike I want to have more room to store all of our crap so that it's easily accessible and I won't break stuff while shuffling things around.

Just this past week I started to ride occasionally to work on the bike, dropping off my kids at school and daycare. It's only about 9 miles so not much of a feat. Yesterday I went biking with family and friends from Slater to Ankeny on the High Trestle trail which was only 13 miles. So not much in comparison to the 60 miles per day I'm planning on that trip.

I'm eying the Labor day weekend for a possibility for the ride.